North Dakota uses results of CSG study to enact sweeping, cost-saving justice reforms

In April, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum signed into law a suite of bills that aims to curb the state’s correctional costs, reform its probation and parole systems, and increase access to community-based behavioral health programs. The enacted legislation (SB 2015HB 1041 and HB 1269) was the product of a justice reinvestment study authorized two years ago by the North Dakota Legislative Assembly in response to the state’s rapidly growing prison population.
Between 2005 and 2015, federal data show, North Dakota’s prison population increased 34 percent — the second-largest rise, behind Indiana, among the 11 Midwestern states (see map). Without action, North Dakota’s prison population was projected to grow by 36 percent between 2016 and 2022, at a cost of more than $100 million for the state.
Last year, The Council of State Governments Justice Center and a bipartisan committee of North Dakota legislators and justice system officials conducted a comprehensive review of state data to determine the causes of this trend. Two populations, the study found, were driving nearly three-quarters of the state’s prison admissions: 1) people convicted of low-level, nonviolent crimes, and 2) individuals whose probation or parole had been revoked. Within these populations, drug abuse was a driving factor behind their imprisonment.

“We knew we would need to increase access to high-quality, community behavioral health treatment to stop the revolving door of drug abuse and slow the growth in the prison system,” says North Dakota Rep. Kim Koppelman, who served on the state’s Incarceration Issues Committee.
During its work on justice reform, Koppelman adds, the committee heard from judges who had sentenced people to prison as a means of getting them into a substance abuse program. North Dakota’s statutory changes:
  • Reduce a first-time drug offense from a class C felony to a class A misdemeanor, and also make probation the presumptive sentence for people who are convicted of class A misdemeanors and class C felonies, unless the offense involves certain aggravating factors;
  • Allow as a term of imprisonment placement in a faith-based behavioral-health treatment facility;
  • Allow individuals who are sentenced to imprisonment for certain drug offenses to complete a drug and alcohol treatment program and serve the remainder of their sentence on probation;
  • Require each state correctional facility (in consultation with other stakeholders) to develop an “inmate population plan” that prioritizes admissions and inmate retention based on the facility’s budget and that includes alternatives to physical custody, such as placement in work release or behavioral health treatment; and
  • Require the North Dakota Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, in collaboration with the state’s Department of Human Services, to establish a community-based behavioral-health program that can be used as a term of parole or a sentencing alternative.
Over the interim, a legislative committee will review implementation of these justice reinvestment policies.
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Stateline Midwest: June/July 20172.01 MB