Bill: Move low-risk inmates to ND penitentiaryBISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Some lawmakers believe picturesque property along the Missouri River south of Bismarck is better suited as a public park than a place for low-risk prison inmates, but the state's prison director is opposed to the plan.
BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Some lawmakers believe picturesque property along the Missouri River south of Bismarck is better suited as a public park than a place for low-risk prison inmates, but the state's prison director is opposed to the plan.
Rep. Alon Wieland, R-West Fargo, is sponsoring a bill that would relocate the Missouri River Correctional Center to the grounds of the state penitentiary, about eight miles away in Bismarck. No action was taken on the proposal Thursday.
“It's a country club setting,” Wieland said of the minimum-security prison with no perimeter fence southwest of downtown.
The 1.5 square-mile parcel with more than a mile of river shoreline would be transferred to the state wildlife and parks agencies.
“It makes no sense to have two prison sites in one community,” Wieland told fellow members of the House Appropriations Committee.
But Leann Bertsch, director of the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, criticized the measure and told lawmakers to consider other sites if they want to move the facility. The low-risk male inmates are now at an isolated spot near the Missouri River and moving them into town and near the state penitentiary creates safety and security problems for the prison and the public, she said.
“We have very serious concerns,” Bertsch said. If the 150 minimum security inmates are moved into the city near the state penitentiary, they could more easily walk away and contraband such as guns and drugs would be easier to obtain and transfer to maximum security inmates, she said.
“These items are dangerous for inmates, staff and the public and may be used in escape attempts,” Bertsch said.
Bill sponsors said the move would cost about $12 million. Bertsch estimates the cost to be at least double that.
North Dakota's soaring oil production has led to record population in the state, which means more crime and less jail space. Bertsch said there are 1,550 inmates at the state penitentiary and lockups across the state are filled beyond capacity.
“The growth and prosperity in our state comes with a cost that is reflected in what is happening within the (corrections department),” she said.
The Missouri River Correctional Center was first used as a prison work farm in the early 1940s, with inmates growing crops and tending animals. Relocating the correctional center has been debated for several years, including the last two legislative sessions. During the 2009 Legislature, the idea was tied to the expansion of the state penitentiary. Lawmakers passed a $73 million expansion project but deleted wording about the center's move.
The minimum security prison was evacuated in 2011 because of rising flood waters. Prison officials at the time said inmates were used to build sandbag dikes around the complex and saved the facility's 17 buildings.
Mylo Candee, a citizen who has supported using the land as a public recreation facility, told lawmakers that Bismarck needs more parks that cater to hikers, cyclists, birdwatchers and cross-country skiers.
Parks also attract new residents, he said.
“People work where they want to live,” Candee said.
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