Early Figures Show ‘Positive Momentum’ for N.D. Justice Reforms

Bismarck Tribune

By Jack Dura

In the 2018 fiscal year, the North Dakota prison population decreased 6.5 percent, according to a report presented to legislators on Thursday.

Multiple factors are likely responsible for the figure that exceeded expectations, according to Leann Bertsch, director of the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. An awareness of criminal justice reform and not overusing incarceration likely contributed, as well as sentencing practices such as “good time” for pretrial defendants in county jails, she said.

“I think there’s just a number of factors: It’s admissions, releases and length of sentence. A lot of the adjustments overall, I think, are creating the reduction in people incarcerated,” Bertsch told the Tribune.

Burleigh County Sheriff and Rep. Pat Heinert, R-Bismarck, rated the 6.5 percent decrease as “excellent.”

“Any number is good,” he said during a break in the interim Justice Reinvestment Committee’s meeting on Thursday morning at the state Capitol in Bismarck. “If we can reduce the prison population and keep people out of jails and keep them in other programs, it’s better for everything that we’re involved in, whether it’s legislative stuff or law enforcement stuff.”

Heinert said he expected an incarceration decrease as he watched state and local numbers in the past 18 months.

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