North Dakota prisons are running out of space; more state money requested – InForum


North Dakota inmates are serving longer sentences, leaving prisons without beds at a rate the state’s top corrections official has labeled “a crisis.”

The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation on Thursday, June 6, asked the state Emergency Commission for $1.2 million to convert a dining hall at the Missouri River Correctional Center in Bismarck into a 40-person dormitory to house additional inmates.

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Entrance sign at the gate of the Missouri River Correctional Center in Bismarck on June 6, 2024.

Michael Achterling / North Dakota Monitor

“This is a Band-Aid to get us to the next session so we can have the bigger conversation about: What are we going to do with the beds?” said Colby Braun, director of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

North Dakota prisons eclipsed their capacity of 1,624 male inmates last July, Braun said. This week the population numbered 1,721 male prisoners.

Since last summer, the McKenzie County Jail has helped house the overflow population and soon the Rugby Jail will do the same, Braun said.

County jails are typically used for inmates with short sentences or parole violations. Inmates housed in county jails are missing out on government services designed to support their rehabilitation and return to society, Braun said.

“You can put people in rooms for up to a year, but … if you don’t get access to programming, you’re probably not going to get paroled when you go to the parole board,” Braun said.

The prison population is 200 people higher than corrections officials projected during the legislative session. Braun attributed the increase in part to the trend of prisoners serving longer sentences.

“In every crime category, people are being sentenced longer than they were five years ago,” Braun said.

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The dining area at the Missouri River Correctional Center in Bismarck could be renovated to add 40 beds to the facility.

Contributed / Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation

Braun said the department has not yet started prioritizing or delaying jail admissions. The department prefers to work with county jails that have extra space, rather than impacting each county, Braun said.

Senate President Brad Bekkedahl, R-Williston, questioned why the department wasn’t working with prisons in Williams and Ward counties, which expanded during the oil boom.

Braun said it is up to the counties to house the overcrowded inmates. Often it’s harder for county jails to predict what their populations will be, he said.

Governor Doug Burgum, chairman of the Emergency Commission, said the department must prioritize its rehabilitation mission.

“For the nonviolent people out there, we’re trying to make better neighbors and get people to work, not just make them better prisoners,” Burgum said.

The department’s funding request would consist of renovating the dining room into space for beds, plus adding a temporary modular building at the Missouri River Correctional Center to provide dining and program space.

“I can’t say the dining room space we’re looking at is the most desirable, but it is the most feasible,” Braun said.

The emergency committee has submitted the request for further consultation. The committee, which also includes Secretary of State Michael Howe and legislative leaders, had questions about the extent of the department’s spending authority and whether the emergency committee that approved the request would comply with the Century Code.

The Legislature’s budget division would also have to approve the emergency request. The emergency committee plans to meet again before the budget division meets on June 19.

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