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Most ND prison inmates are low-level felons

BISMARCK - People sentenced for property and drug crimes present the greatest opportunity for North Dakota to slow the revolving door at the state's prisons, researchers told the group guiding the state's Justice Reinvestment Initiative on Tuesday.

BISMARCK – People sentenced for property and drug crimes present the greatest opportunity for North Dakota to slow the revolving door at the state’s prisons, researchers told the group guiding the state’s Justice Reinvestment Initiative on Tuesday.

Katie Mosehauer, project manager for the Council of State Governments Justice Center, said supervision failures and the lowest-level property and drug offenses “are creating an immense amount of pressure” on the state’s prison system.

Sixty-two percent of new prison admissions are for Class C felonies, the lowest felony level, and most are for property and drug offenses, researchers found in reviewing 1.4 million records from the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. On any given day, 27 percent of the state’s prison inmates are there because of a probation or parole violation.

The state spent $25 million in fiscal year 2014 incarcerating the lowest-level property and drug offenders and those whose probation or parole was revoked, Mosehauer said.

“That presents a real opportunity to intervene and avert those costs,” she told the 16-member Incarceration Issues Committee made up of lawmakers, corrections officials, judges, state’s attorneys and law enforcement officials.

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Forty-six percent of probation revocations involve noncriminal violations of supervision conditions, Mosehauer reported. She said the state has an “acute” need for treatment services for substance abuse and mental health, which came as no surprise to lawmakers who worked last session to address the issue.

Of the parole and probation officers surveyed by the Justice Center, only 12 percent felt substance abuse treatment was accessible and available, and only 4 percent felt the same about mental health treatment.

“That’s a pretty stark snapshot,” Mosehauer said, noting a majority of those surveyed reported having to wait at least three weeks to access all forms of community treatment.

Sen. Ron Carlisle, R-Bismarck, the committee’s chairman, said offenders in western North Dakota who need treatment have been put in jail for 72 hours because of the shortage of community services.

“It doesn’t solve anything,” he said.

The committee, which was created by the 2015 Legislature and began working on the reinvestment initiative in January, also was scheduled Tuesday to review steps other states have taken to reduce prison costs and recidivism and begin discussing what policy they would like to see in legislation for the 2017 Legislature to consider.

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