Head of North Dakota DOCR says Moving Women’s Corrections Center is the Best Option

Not everyone is unhappy with an item in Governor Burgum’s budget.

His proposal to shut down the Dakota Women’s Correctional Facility in New England is something the Head of the State’s Department of Corrections supports. 

We spoke with the Director of the North Dakota Department of Corrections Leann Bertsch at the State Penitentiary. She says if the Governor’s proposal is approved, then a little over 180 men from the Missouri River Correctional Center will be moved to Jamestown. That will make room for about 120 female inmates to move to MRCC.

Missouri River Correctional Center is a minimum security prison, and the move would actually lessen the amount of prisoners housed there.

Bertsch says the inmates currently housed at the Dakota Women’s Correctional Facility in New England, would be much better served at MRCC, where they have access to rehabilitation and behavioral health services. 

She explains, “The parity between the services provided for the men, who are all in an urban setting, whether it’s Jamestown or Bismarck, they cannot be maintained or they’ve never existed in a very rural, remote location such as New England, North Dakota.”

She says 26 percent of the women in New England are actually from Burleigh County, the next largest group is from Ward.

Bertsch adds, “70 to 80 percent of the women have kids under the age of 18, and we know it’s really important for those bonds with children to be maintained. And right now, we are doing a huge dis-service, not only to the women not getting access to all the services they could access here in Bismarck, but to the children who are not having that relationship with their mothers. Now we’re setting up future generations for failure by having them so distant from their moms.”

The new hospital would be funded from the state’s Legacy Fund, money set aside by the Legislature for emergencies since 2011.

North Dakota Republican Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner says, “That’s what the Legacy Fund is for, things that are going to leave a legacy. And that state hospital is going to deal with behavioral health, so I can’t be against it when it’s one of my top issues, and we need to deal with that.”

Bertsch adds, “Our mission is to provide the best correctional services for people, to keep them from re-offending.”

She says the lack of available services in New England really hinders the progress the DOCR wants to make for incarcerated women.

The new state hospital will be built on the same campus, in a different area than the prisons.

Bertsch also says the over 50 employees currently working at the New England Center would be welcomed to work in Jamestown if they’re willing to relocate.

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More on Governor Burgum’s Executive Budget Proposal:

The executive budget proposal includes taking 35 million from the Legacy Fund and giving that to the Department of Human Services for a new state hospital in Jamestown. 

Then, the DOCR would convert current State Hospital buildings into a minimum security prison for men, right next to the medium security, James River Correctional Center.

After that, the more than 180 men from the Missouri River Correctional Center will be moved to Jamestown, to make room for the about 120 women to move to the MRCC.

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