BISMARCK, N.D. — Two criminal justice reform bills that the North Dakota Legislature is expected to debate when it convenes in January will include proposals meant to curb the state’s growing prison population, but few of the proposed measures come from recommendations made by researchers who analyzed the issue during the past year.
A pair of legislative groups — the Incarceration Issues Committee and the Alternatives to Incarceration Commission — met jointly on Monday to consider provisions suggested by members and by researchers from the Council of State Governments Justice Center, the Bismarck Tribune (http://bit.ly/2cNMJbI ) reported. The lawmakers agreed to limit penalties for some drug users, but proposals meant to significantly cut sentences were crushed by some members.
“It’s a start,” said Sen. Ron Carlisle, a Republican from Bismarck. But his GOP colleague, Sen. Terry Wanzek, of Jamestown, noted that by holding tight to tough drug laws and not following some of the recommendations of researchers, it could be more difficult to make the investments that many believe are needed to finally see a drop in the growing crime and incarceration rates.
“If we don’t do some of these things, where are we going to find the savings? I thought that was the whole purpose here, to try to find some savings in those areas where it makes sense,” Wanzek said. “If we’re not going to find the savings, how are we ever going to generate money for behavior health or addiction problems?”
Lawmakers agreed to decrease penalties for first-time offenders accused of ingesting drugs or possessing drug paraphernalia and to eliminate rules that keep drug offenders from participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
Among the suggestions quashed by lawmakers was one that would have eliminated mandatory minimum sentences for people accused of dealing drugs.
Marc Pelka, deputy director of the Justice Reinvestment initiative, said his group plans to work individually with legislators to get some of their policy suggestions into the debate during the legislative session.
Information from: Bismarck Tribune, http://www.bismarcktribune.com