$70 Million Detention Centers and Nonviolent Drug Offenders

A few days ago the Bismarck Tribune published an article on sheriff’s around North Dakota being concerned about recent reforms by the North Dakota Legislature. The purpose of the reforms were to reduce the number of people being sent to prison. Among them were changes to drug laws regarding first time offenders (reducing the penalty from a Class C felony to a Class A misdemeanor) and mandatory minimums.

As part of the article, the Bismarck Tribune identified Burleigh County Sheriff Pat Heinert – who also happens to be a state representative from District 32 – as one “who is concerned about more drug offenders being sentenced to his jail under the new laws”.

What it boils down to is that sheriff’s like Heinert are concerned that with reducing penalties and sending less offenders to prison, that counties will bear the burden of incarceration in the local jails– with many of those incarcerated being non-violent drug offenders.

The concern of these sheriff’s could certainly become a reality, but it will only be so if counties continue to pursue penalties that require jail time. This is a fact actually pointed out by Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Director Leann Bertsch:

“If a prosecutor wants someone to serve a certain amount of time, they’ll charge differently and recommend sentences differently. It won’t be so dependent on just what the Legislature did.”

In a nutshell, counties need to change their thinking in regards to how they handle these situations, which is something Bertsch reiterated:

“They just need to change their philosophy. The fact of the matter is they’ll have a lot more money if they start funding alternatives.”

In a recent letter to the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, the Pew Charitable Trust cites evidence from recent research that high incarceration rates are not linked to a reduction in drug use.

This is an important finding. Why? Because nearly 50% of the nation’s prison population are nonviolent drug offenders. And get this– according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 1970 there were about 200,000 incarcerated in the entire United States. By 2014 that number had risen to 2.2 million people.

Does anyone want to guess what parallels the increase? In 1971 President Richard Nixon declared the War on Drugs. And its been an epic – and expensive – failure ever since.

I find it interesting that Burleigh County Sheriff Pat Heinert was referenced in the aforementioned Bismarck Tribune article. Why? Because Burleigh County – together with its neighbor Morton County – recently opened a $70 million detention center. This 213,000 square foot building can hold 525 inmates– with the potential for expansion to 1,000.

If the state of North Dakota and its sheriff’s are truly interested in reducing costs at both state and local levels, then perhaps it’s time to stop incarcerating nonviolent drug offenders. These folks need help, not prison. Then maybe we can stop building $70 million detention centers at the expense of taxpayers too.

1. http://bismarcktribune.com/news/state-and-regional/criminal-justice-reforms-have-sheriffs-worried/article_5ff664bb-4724-5f36-99b8-d38cb561b706.html
2. http://www.kfyrtv.com/content/news/All-Morton-County-jail-inmates-transferred-to-new-combined-detention-center–428033053.html
3. http://cumberlink.com/news/local/closer_look/digital_data/beyond-bars-the-economic-impacts-of-the-criminal-justice-system/article_a3726fe1-7eb0-5936-956f-c2eeefdbae08.html
4. http://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/report-incarceration-does-not-affect-drug-abuse-or-overdose-rates-0706171

Facebook Comments
About T. Arthur Mason 878 Articles
T. Arthur Mason is a native North Dakotan who has spent nearly all of his life in the Peace Garden State. As the third of four children in Western North Dakota, Mason grew to appreciate family and the outdoors. Some of his fondest memories are annual deer hunts with family and friends. In his early teenage years, faith became a central part of T. Arthur Mason's life. He and the majority of his family attend church together on a weekly basis and find this a fulfilling aspect of their lives. Through the influence of his father, T. Arthur Mason became intrigued with politics. As a boy, he attended political events with his father and enjoyed the friendships that resulted as a byproduct of those political associations. As Mason grew older, he became convinced that the quote often attributed to Thomas Jefferson was true, "That government is best which governs least." Today, T. Arthur Mason enjoys time with his wife and children, an occasional hunt, and an increasingly active life on the political scene. This blog is the fulfillment of a dream to design a web site in the realm of politics and to advocate for the principles of Liberty and constitutionally limited government. On behalf of all those that contribute to The Minuteman, we hope you enjoy your time on the site and will share the message with others.