North Dakota Explores Expanding Alternatives to Incarceration and Behavioral Health Services for People in the Criminal Justice System

September 18, 2018

At a North Dakota Justice Reinvestment Oversight Committee meeting last month, CSG Justice Center staff highlighted recent decreases in prison admissions that resulted from alcohol and drug offenses and probation revocations. These declines seem to be the cause of a 6.5-percent drop in the state’s total prison population in FY2018, which exceeded expectations, and have reinforced the state’s efforts to increase behavioral health services for people in the criminal justice system.

The reductions occurred in the wake of Justice Reinvestment legislation passed in 2017, which emphasized prioritizing prison space for people who commit the most serious and violent offenses, increasing behavioral health services for people in the justice system, and reducing recidivism by changing behavior.

Although impacts of the legislation seem promising given the declines in prison population and admissions, it’s too soon to draw definitive connections between these drops and the legislation. More time is needed for the state to track the impact of the legislative changes that went into effect on January 1, 2018.

In the interest of continuing these downward trends, North Dakota held a state forum on public safety on August 21, which was facilitated by CSG Justice Center staff and focused on crime and law enforcement trends, pretrial reform, and expanding alternatives to incarceration for people in the criminal justice system who need behavioral health treatment.

The state has already invested $7 million in Free Through Recovery, an innovative behavioral health plan for people who have mental illnesses, substance addictions, or co-occurring mental illnesses and substance addictions. Community-based agencies provide a range of services including comprehensive care planning, linking participants to services, peer recovery supports, and facilitating communication among treatment teams.

At the forum, which was attended by criminal justice stakeholders from across the state, a variety of additional alternatives to incarceration were discussed, including the use of crisis stabilization units, crisis intervention teams, prosecutorial diversion programs, and specialty courts.

Following the 50-State Summit on Public Safety in November 2017, the U.S Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance selected multiple states to host individual state forums on public safety. Vermont and Ohio were the first to host theirs in April, followed by Michigan, Oregon, and Wyoming; New Mexico, Iowa, and Connecticut; and Hawaii.


This project was supported by Grant No. 2015-ZB-BX-K001 awarded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance. The Bureau of Justice Assistance is a component of the Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs, which also includes the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the National Institute of Justice, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, the Office for Victims of Crime, and the SMART Office. Points of view or opinions in this document are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

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