By Max Grossfeld
BISMARCK, ND – Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation officials estimate it costs more than $70 million per year to house the about 1,800 inmates in the state’s prison system, and that doesn’t even take into account the about 1,700 more in county jails.
Governor Doug Burgum, R-N.D., announced Friday that he’s signed a package of bills that should help curb that cost by $7 million.
That money will then be reinvested into behavioral health services to get addicts the help they need.
This is done by reducing penalties on non-violent crimes, prioritizing probation and freeing up jail space through pretrial services.
All three branches of government came together to work on this project, and all were represented at a press conference to announce the signatures.
“It’s not just the smart thing to do, it’s not just the financially right thing to do, but it’s the right thing to do for the people in our state because everybody here on stage, everybody that you know, and everybody in the audience is going to know someone who’s been touched and influenced their family by behavioral health or addiction issues,” said Burgum.
Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said, “This package of legislation will, in years to come, to be seen as the most visionary, and important pieces of legislation that this session has dealt with. It’s that important.”
While some say the money isn’t enough, they say it’s a step in the right direction.
“Yes it’s $7 million. $7 million is enough, but if we hadn’t watched it go all the way through, we would never be able to implement this at all and I’m so proud of my colleagues. It’s been a very unified, collaborative effort,” said Sen. Judy Lee, Senate Human Services chair.
Rep. Kim Koppelman, House Judiciary Committee chair, said, “Those with chemical dependency issues don’t need to be thrown into jail, where they simply may learn how to become better criminals, but directed instead to the treatment they need and the opportunity to conquer those addictions, and get their lives back on track.”
The Council of State Government’s Justice Center worked with a committee of lawmakers between sessions through grants, meaning there was no cost to the taxpayers.