According to the Department of Corrections, U.S. Prison populations have been on a steep rise for years. Renée Cooper tells us why North Dakota is not one of those states.
We have about 1,700 people currently in the North Dakota prison system, and this is actually down from the past couple years.
Experts in criminal justice got together today to discuss continuing that momentum moving forward.
Parole and Probation Director for the North Dakota Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Patrick Bohn says, “I guess we really haven’t set any goals in terms of what that number looks like in terms of reduction, but I think the first thing we had to do was bend the curve. Because for decades it’s been up, up, up, up.”
Sara Friedman is a Policy Analyst for the Council of State Governments Justice Center. She led the discussion, saying prisons can be ‘criminal training grounds.’
Bohn adds, “You know, they’re made up of our neighbors, and at the end of the day, we need to really challenge ourselves to think about these people as people.”
Friedman cited an Arkansas study that concluded: people placed on probation were 18 to 21 percent less likely to be re-arrested, than people re-entering the community from prison within three years of release.
Our state is also setting an example.
Just this February, North Dakota state government set aside seven-million dollars to help reduce our prison population. It’s called the ‘Free Through Recovery’ program, and it helps those in the criminal justice system that have behavioral health issues.
Through this program, they have a way of getting out of the system.
Friedman explains, “Jails shouldn’t be holding cells for people who are dealing with mental health issues. They need additional tools to deal with that.”
And keeping people in prison is just down-right costly. In North Dakota, the annual cost of one prison bed is over 41,000 dollars.
Bohn says, “We want our communities to be safe, but how we get there, how we allocate those dollars, how we impact people’s lives is where a lot of the conversation comes in.”
Friedman also talked about Crisis Stabilization Centers, an alternative place that law enforcement can send people who are dealing with a mental health crisis, rather than cycling them in and out of jail.