ND lawmakers mull rehabilitation, decriminalization as justice reinvestment

By  | 

BISMARCK, N.D. - As the legislature reconsiders how it handles its justice program, including dealing with a rapidly increasing prison population, North Dakota leaders brought in some outside help to give a broader perspective.

Grover Norquist is most famous, or infamous depending on your political affiliation, for his tax pledge that many conservative lawmakers sign, promising no new taxes. Today he didn't talk about tax reform, however. He spoke about justice reform.

Justice reinvestment is a theory gaining traction around the country that focuses less on locking people up, and more on rehabilitating them to become functioning members of society.

"We really believe you have to decide who you're afraid of, and those are the people who should be in prison, not those you're just mad at, people with a drug problem, mental health issue, that could be safely supervised in the community and actually be productive citizens and not just a drain on society," said Marc Levin, Right On Crime, a conservative criminal justice reform initiative.

"I think maybe it is a change in the public recognizing that just recognizing that just locking everybody up and not addressing what is a fundamental underlying issue of addiction is not going to result in the community being safer," says Wayne Stenehjem, ND attorney general.

Americans for Tax Reform say the amount of money saved from locking fewer people up will more than cover rehabilitation costs.

"Prohibition brings problems that temperance doesn't. It doesn't necessarily improve things, but when you make something illegal, you change all the rules about it. Smoking cigarettes may not be good for you, but if it was illegal, there would be drive-by shootings to get tobacco," said Norquist.

Norquist argues laws should be revisited every few years to make sure they haven't become outdated, like mandatory minimum laws from the 90s.

The state legislature is in the process of reviewing several bills dealing with some of these concepts like rehabilitation and reducing penalties.
A bill to decriminalize marijuana should be voted on in the House within the next few days. ​