(KXNET) — North Dakota lawmakers are considering a $1 billion budget for the state’s prison system.

On Monday, lawmakers took a field trip, venturing inside the walls of the state penitentiary to hear from workers and the inmates about how that money would be spent.

“From one big house to the other,” said Representative Jon Nelson.

A room full of interested faces inside the North Dakota state penitentiary.

“You’re here for a reason and I think there’s a real reason I ended up here,” Dave Krabbenhoft said. Krabbenhoft is the director of the North Dakota Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

For the first time, North Dakota House lawmakers hosted an appropriation hearing inside the state prison, hearing from both staff and inmates who are on the receiving end of the state budget.

“I remember that ride. It was horrific. Just sitting in the dark and then seeing all of the razor wire and the fences when I got here. And I’m not a violent person so my instincts kicked in, and I never thought I’d sit back and contemplate defending myself on a daily basis,” said Christian Tolbert, a resident at the North Dakota State Penitentiary.

“We thought it was important for people to understand what we do in North Dakota, the rehabilitation piece of corrections,” said Krabbenhoft.

“We’ve seen threats to our prisons continue to change. We have more potent drugs. You’ve heard about the fentanyl and know how bad that can be,” North Dakota State Penitentiary chief of security Joe Charvat said.

Not glossing over heavy topics like drugs, suicide, and violence, workers and inmates testified with a sense of optimism about successful programs preparing people for life outside.

“As soon as I stepped into orientation, it was a sense of relief. And I didn’t feel like I was going to be walking into a pod full of savages. Like what the horror stories say, it’s the total opposite,” Tolbert said.

“To now, we come through the hall and they’re saying good morning. It makes you feel human,” Antonio Stridiron said. Stridiron is serving a sentence at the penitentiary.

“Because 97% of the people are going to return to the community, we want to emulate what a community is like while they’re in prison because they’ll return to it,” Lacie Zander said. Zander is the correctional unit manager at the penitentiary.

Two of the big requests in the corrections budget include more money for staffing and facilities.

If approved, the women’s prison near New England would be closed and women and youth offenders would eventually be housed near Mandan.

“Everybody’s facing a staffing challenge now,” Krabbenhoft said. “And we’ve got to make the environment such that it’s a healthy environment coming to work. And you’re more interested in helping people than you are in being assaulted.”

The hearing lasted over three hours, but lawmakers were in no hurry to escape as they were eager to hear every last story.

“That’s a picture I never want to forget,” Rep. Nelson said.

“Some of the things we’re doing could change lives in people,” said Krabbenhoft.

The new women’s prison is expected to cost around $160 million and would include 260 beds.