BISMARCK, N.D. — North Dakota sheriffs are concerned that a slate of new criminal justice reforms will shift costs from the state to counties and put added pressure on local jails.
Lawmakers approved legislation this year to reduce the number of people going to prison, The Bismarck Tribune (http://bit.ly/2uyYb48 ) reported. The new laws came after research estimated that the state prison population would grow by 36 percent and $130 million by 2022. Among those laws is a provision to reduce the penalty for the first-time drug possession from a felony to a misdemeanor and reduce mandatory minimums for drug charges. The laws also ask that state and local correctional facilities prioritize who goes to prison.
The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has the authority to hold inmates in county jails if there’s lack of space in a prison.
“The state basically did that so they didn’t have to take people into their facility,” said Mercer County Sheriff Dean Danzeisen.
Danzeisen said jails don’t offer the same types of services as prisons and they lack resources for people seeking treatment outside of jail.
“You can decriminalize things, but that’s just a way to me to sit them in county jail and not provide them any services,” Danzeisen said. “We don’t have addiction counselors and psychiatrists and all those things that these people need.”
The laws come after several counties have expanded their jails. The North Dakota Association of Counties reports that nine counties are expected to increase jail capacity from 1,765 beds to 2,633 beds this year. An association spokeswoman Donnell Hushka said the organization plans to track county jails’ numbers and the costs of holding people.
“The only way we’re going to know that is by tracking those numbers and that data,” she said. “For right now, they’re just kind of speculating and assuming they’re going to see the impacts of that.”