In North Dakota, prisons are defaulting as the go-to resource for low-level felony offenses, parole violations, and even mental health and substance abuse treatment due to a lack of alternative resources throughout the state.
Yet, as reported in the Jamestown Sun, state legislators are looking to change that.
Researchers on the topic recently presented their findings to North Dakota’s Justice Reinvestment Initiative. That Initiative, led by 16 lawmakers, corrections officials, judges, state’s attorneys and law enforcement officials, is looking at how the state prison system can be revamped to better serve everyone involved. The goal is to have a set of recommendations ready to go for the 2017 legislative session.
North Dakota spent 25 million dollars in fiscal year 2014 imprisoning people with parole violations or low-level property and drug offences, also known as class C felonies. Of those sent to jail, 62 percent had committed a class C felony. Another 27 percent of the state’s prison inmates are there because of a probation or parole violation. Many of those violations were non-criminal in nature, so the Initiative hopes to discover other options than a jail cell.
The other major finding was the acute need for better mental health and substance abuse treatment centers. Throughout western North Dakota, a shortage of proper facilities mean that city and county jails double as mental health and substance abuse facilities.
Only 12 percent of parole and probation officers said they felt substance abuse treatment was accessible and available. For mental health treatment, it dropped to 4 percent. Many of those surveyed reported that it can take up to three weeks for access to full community treatment for those problems, which means that many offenders who need mental health or substance abuse help often sit in jail for 72 hours instead.