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Mar 24

Prison Bills Put N.D. On the Right Path

The Bismarck Tribune

The Tribune Editorial Board has for a long time supported steps that result in fewer people being jailed and them becoming productive citizens. Senate Bill 2015 is a move in that direction.

The bill intends to develop tiered services statewide for people on probation and parole. The services would tie in with other reform bills that divert more people from prison. One of those measures, House Bill 1041, makes probation the presumed sentence for nonviolent low-level felonies.

On Sunday, Tribune reporter Caroline Grueskin explained the goals of SB2015. Under the bill, the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation would cut its costs by prioritizing who goes to prison, in order to provide services to people who may do better on the outside. To accomplish this, corrections would transfer $7 million to the North Dakota Department of Human Services to offer treatment to more than 2,000 people. The theory is that supervision and services will keep people from committing more crimes. At the same time it will reduce jail and prison populations.

There will be some people skeptical about the proposal and that’s understandable. It requires judges along with jail and prison officials to make judgments about who does and doesn’t get locked up. It also relies on a public-private partnership model where the Department of Human Services pays private providers for services and pays them based on non-traditional performance outcomes.

It also means counties and the state treat jail and prison bed space as a commodity instead of an expandable resource. We are looking at an alternative to crowded facilities.

This is a good plan, but it won’t be easy to implement and the full results of the proposal won’t be apparent for some time.

It will take time to find private providers, especially in smaller communities. Deciding who goes to jail and who doesn’t won’t always be easy.

Those diverted from prison will be nonviolent offenders, many with drug problems or mental and behavioral health issues. If we can keep them in society and help them become productive citizens everyone will benefit. In the long run it should be more cost effective. Some people will be nervous over the concept of fewer people being incarcerated. Those on parole or probation will have been screened and monitored.

SB2015 and other bills are the result of interim legislative work with the Council of State Governments Justice Center. A lot of work and thought has gone into the legislation. The state is moving in the right direction and legislators are to be commended for the reform legislation.

Source: JusticeCenter

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