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Counties say they’re picking up corrections responsibilities that belong to the state

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Last month we sat down with Sheriff Kelly Leben about a big strain on the Burleigh-Morton Detention Center caused by a pandemic era policy from the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

But Sheriff Leben isn’t alone.

Six months ago, the DOCR stopped taking inmates into any of its facilities, including prisons and transition centers. The result: county jails are housing state inmates.

Although the DOCR is now allowing some to return, North Dakota counties are fronting the cost, paid by your tax dollars.

“If you have a really high medical need in your jail that really isn’t supposed to be your cost, it’s the state’s cost, it could be devastating to a county budget,” said Donnell Preskey Hushka, the Executive Director of the North Dakota Sheriff and Deputies Association.

So far, state-sentenced inmates have cost North Dakota counties close to $1.5 million. Preskey Hushka says it’s not just the bigger county facilities like the Burleigh-Morton or Ward County jails.

“And for some of those small counties that really don’t have a lot of beds, this is probably even more of an impact to them,” she added.

Preskey Hushka has been tracking how many state inmates are in jails since the DOCR’s policy took effect in mid-March. The peak was in mid-July, with 155 inmates at once. Altogether, there have been 387 extra inmates sitting in county facilities.

“The Department of Corrections population has gone down 299 inmates, so they’ve reduced their population. But at the same time, the counties have increased their population. We’re currently up 44 inmates from where we were before the coronavirus pandemic,” Preskey Hushka explained.

The DOCR has been bringing in about 90 male inmates and about 19 females each month for the past couple of months, easing the burden a little.

During a legislative budget meeting Thursday, the DOCR Director of Transitional Planning Services told lawmakers that the DOCR has reimbursed counties to the tune of $971,000 out of the about $1.5 million using CARES Act dollars.

When asked if the DOCR will continue to reimburse counties, Director of Transitional Planning Services Steve Hall responded, “As long as there’s funding available, and hopefully, as we progress, maybe we can get kinda back to business as normal.”

But, it’s unclear when that will be.

“Until we have a vaccine in place, this might be our standard operating procedure,” Hall said.

“You’ve been in a prison, you’ve been in a jail, you know what the housing is like, but our counties have those same concerns,” Preskey Hushka concluded.

Preskey Hushka says the Sheriff and Deputies Association along with lawmakers and other government officials are working on some resolutions to take that burden back off of the counties.

She says that should be expected in the next few weeks.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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