Report: Time behind bars increases in NDInmates in North Dakota and across the country are spending more time behind bars than they did 20 years ago, according to a report from the Pew Center on the States in Washington, D.C.
Inmates in North Dakota and across the country are spending more time behind bars than they did 20 years ago, according to a report from the Pew Center on the States in Washington, D.C.
Officials said it is good for the public but not the defendant.
“A lot of these cases are being overcharged,” Dickinson criminal defense attorney Vince Ficek said Monday. “I’ve been doing criminal defense for 35 years, and it just seems like it’s tougher.”
The average offender released in 2009 spent two years in custody, nine months or 54 percent more than those in 1990, according to the study. Extra time served costs North Dakotans $23.2 million more in taxes, according to the report.
Convicts served an average of 36 percent longer across the United States, which cost citizens more than $10 billion, according to the report.
South Dakota was among eight states that reduced overall time served with 24 percent less, according to the report.
The North Dakota Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation reported an average daily population of about 1,500 throughout the state for the 2011 fiscal year. Two females and 56 males are serving life sentences.
The majority of prisoners — 826 inmates — were admitted with a sentence of one to five years in the same fiscal year. The sentences did not include good time, credit for time served or parole relief.
Legislation and parole board decisions play a part in how long a convict stays in prison, said Adam Gelb, director of Pew’s Public Safety Performance Project. He added there is a notion that keeping offenders in prison longer would reduce the tendency to become a repeat criminal.
“Violent and career criminals need to go to prison and stay there for a long time,” he said. “The research and public opinion have come into alignment on this issue.”
North Dakota has another dynamic.
“What it comes down to is the more serious offenses have longer lengths of stay,” DOCR state spokesman Tim Tausend said from Bismarck.
Length of stay for violent crimes has increased, he said. The Pew study confirmed a 40 percent increase over the past 20 years.
More complaints are filed and served, Ficek said. Cash bonds are also an issue, he added.
“With it being cash bonds, a lot of these people can’t afford to post bond, so they end up sitting in jail until they go to trial or settle the case down the road, which can be anywhere from three to six months or longer,” he said.
The cost increase is due to rising prices for wages, health care and maintenance, Tausend said.
“That’s just the cost of doing business,” he said. “That’s just a natural part of the business.”
The public doesn’t care when a detainee gets out, Ficek said. Citizens just want the system to work by teaching criminals crime doesn’t pay.
“They realize that offenders are going to get out at some point,” he said. “They want to stop that revolving door.”