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New England women’s prison faces uncertain funding

An increase in inmates and the cost to house them has the Dakota Women's Correctional Rehab Center in New England operating at about $1 million below budget.

An increase in inmates and the cost to house them has the Dakota Women’s Correctional Rehab Center in New England operating at about $1 million below budget.

Area county leaders pondered the next course of action for the center while discussing the issue Monday night during the Southwest Association of Counties meeting in Dickinson.

Connie Monson of the Southwest Multi County Correction Facility -- which includes both DWCRC and the Dickinson Adult Detention Center in Dickinson -- presented the state of affairs for the women’s prison along with Duane Wolf, a Stark County commissioner and a member of the correctional facility’s board of directors.

“Where do you want to go with this thing?” Wolf asked.

The SWMCCC is owned by Billings, Bowman, Dunn, Hettinger, Slope and Stark counties, with contracts made with McKenzie, Williams, Burleigh and Morton counties. Golden Valley County is also an owner of the Adult Detention Center. Each of the counties pays for the facilities according to a percentage based on their number of residents compared to their combined total.

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Monson said the counties had invested around $2.9 million in the facility since it opened in 2003.

Throughout the years, however, Monson said the cost of housing prisoners at the DWCRC has risen.

In 2003, the average costs of housing a prisoner in the 120-bed facility was more than $77 a day. For this next biennium, Monson said it was budgeted at more than $133 a day.

Monson said the state Department of Corrections raised concerns approaching the 2009 -11 biennium about the DWCRC asking for money while it still had some cash in reserves, so the facility chose to apply for the same amount as in the previous biennium.

The DWCRC funded some improvements during that biennium using its reserve money.

Since then, the past three biennium grant figures approved by the Department of Corrections have come below its budget, Monson said.

This year, the DWCRC received about $11.2 million of its requested $12.2 million budget. Monson attributed the asking figure to high wages needed to retain workers, as well as rising food costs.

“So, in this next two-year session, we are tasked with planning to operate $1 million under budget,” she said.

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Adding to concerns is the rise in the average daily inmate count over the years at DWCRC, which has increased from 74.45 in 2007 to 134.59 in 2015.

The facility peaked at 147 inmates housed last December, Monson said, during which time some had to be housed in the chapel of the 126-bed facility.

“Everybody was just so confined in that area,” she said. “There wasn’t any elbow room for everybody to move.”

When asked if the prison had any limits to the inmates it accepts, Monson replied that it doesn’t turn anyone away.

She said the Department of Corrections approached the DWCRC about adding a Special Management Unit, which would serve inmates with mental health and addiction issues. The cost was estimated between $3 million and $4 million, with no ideas as to where the funding might come from.

Since the facility opened in 2003, Monson said it has suffered a net loss of $500,000. She and Wolf said the reserve fund would be used up by end of this biennium.

Wolf said he thought that having the counties all devote an equal percentage would help. He said closing the facility was not an option, but that something had to be done.

“It’s not a good idea to throw money at a sinking ship,” he said.

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