BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota’s female prison population has reached capacity for the first time, leaving some inmates in the custody of county jails.
The women’s prison system reached its average daily capacity of 224 inmates in May. Now, state prisons are implementing a prioritization plan for admissions.
Under 2017 legislation, county inmates are transferred to state prisons based on the severity of crimes, medical needs and other factors. But last week, only six of 12 inmates intended for movement from county to state were admitted.
Steve Hall, director of transitional planning services for the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said the system is sticking to its budget and capacity.
“It would be nice not to be in this situation, nice to stay out of prioritization as long as we could, but we couldn’t do it any longer,” Hall said.
Counties are concerned about the cost burden this will put on them, noted Donnell Preskey, the spokeswoman for the North Dakota Association of Counties. She added that a prisoner’s medical expenses can sometimes cost the counties more than housing.
“We obviously agree that we don’t want to keep building correctional facilities, but there should be a mechanism in place for the state to reimburse counties for the state expense,” Preskey said.
When the state rejected three Burleigh County inmates, Sheriff Kelly Leben sent a bill to the Corrections Department last month for the expense of holding state prisoners as a symbol to show how much the county is paying.
“My concern is if one of these prisoners has a heart attack or a serious medical issue in our jail, that is our responsibility to pay for also,” Leben said.
There was no appropriation in the 2017 bill to compensate counties.
The women’s prison population started creeping up in January of 2018 and has risen steadily since.
As of Monday, the state’s male prison population was 1,542, of the 1,624 capacity. The same admission process would go into effect if the men’s population were to reach capacity, Corrections Department spokeswoman Michelle Linster said.