Longtime North Dakota corrections director resigns, takes job with controversial private prison firm

Utah-based Management & Training Corp., where Leann Bertsch will work as a senior vice president, has faced a number of high-profile lawsuits, alleging human rights violations in prisons, mismanagement of facilities and engaging in corrupt contracts with a public official.

Outside Chances Leann Bertsch
Leann Bertsch, director of the North Dakota Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, discusses the mission of the DOCR in Bismarck. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

BISMARCK — After 15 years at the helm, the director of North Dakota's prison system has resigned her position with the state to take a job in the private sector.

Leann Bertsch was originally appointed to lead the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation in 2005 by then-Gov. John Hoeven, but both of Hoeven's successors reappointed her to the role upon taking office.

Bertsch will formally leave the post at the end of July.

"The strong commitment to improve lives of the adults and youth committed to our custody and supervision is reflected in the many reforms that include the reduced use of restrictive housing, the increase in humanity by incorporating the principles of normality and dynamic security, and community involvement to make better neighbors rather than better prisoners," Bertsch said in her resignation letter.

Gov. Doug Burgum commended the job Bertsch has done with the department, saying she has "reshaped the corrections landscape in North Dakota" with her innovative approach.


Bertsch has accepted the role of senior vice president of corrections for Utah-based Management & Training Corp., a company with a troubled history that runs more than a dozen private prisons and immigration detention facilities around the country.

The firm has faced a number of high-profile lawsuits, alleging human rights violations in prisons, mismanagement of facilities and corrupt acts in dealings with a public official .

Three inmates escaped from an Arizona prison run by the company in 2010. One escapee was later convicted of murdering two people in New Mexico while on the run, according to the Arizona Republic . A state report found the company's poor security measures at the facility and general lack of organization to be responsible for the prison break. Arizona later cut ties with the company after a riot at the same facility, but the company's website shows it still operates one prison in the state.

In 2015, nearly 2,000 inmates rioted at a Texas "tent prison" run by the company after years of complaints by inmates of poor medical care and neglectful living conditions, according to Frontline.

Kayli Richards, a spokesperson for the North Dakota corrections department, could not be reached for comment.

Burgum appointed Dave Krabbenhoft, a longtime state employee, to take over for Bertsch on an interim basis. Krabbenhoft currently serves as the department's director of administration.

Bertsch is the second member of Burgum's cabinet to resign in the past two weeks. State Health Officer Mylynn Tufte submitted her resignation last week after three years on the job. Ambiguity still surrounds Tufte's departure after Burgum would not directly answer whether he asked for her resignation, however Burgum spokesman Mike Nowatzki confirmed that Bertsch was not asked to resign and did so of her own accord.

Jeremy Turley is a Bismarck-based reporter for Forum News Service, which provides news coverage to publications owned by Forum Communications Company.
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