Proposed County Jail: Overcrowding Challenges - KFYRTV.COM - Bismarck, ND - News, Weather, Sports

Proposed County Jail: Overcrowding Challenges

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Keeping up with the flourishing population in Central and Western North Dakota has been a task for many communities, and Burleigh and Morton counties are no exception.
Back in 2012, the counties hired consultants to find the best solution for overcrowding in the jails, they proposed a 500 bed, joint county detention center with an estimated cost of $50 million. After two years of studies, planning and discussions, the finalized proposal costs were nearly $20 million more than expected. This caused some controversy.

With only 138 beds available for inmates, Burleigh County Sheriff Pat Heinert says capacity limitations are putting criminals back on the streets.

"There are some that should be in here that are probably out on bond right now or being released by the courts," says Burleigh County Sheriff Pat Heinert.
Originally built in 1930, the Burleigh County Detention Center has been expanded in a patchwork fashion, but now cell blocks and staff are hazardously pushed to the limit. The inmate population has shifted to predominately felons in recent years, and Morton County Sheriff Dave Shipman says he's dealing with the same problems in his 38 bed facility.

"What's happening in Bismarck is also happening in Mandan just on a smaller scale, more felony cases, more violent crimes, drug usage and addiction is on the increase," says Shipman.

Limited space has felons bunking with pick pockets.

"We have absolutely no classification here, the only classification we have is we separate sentenced and pre-sentenced," says Heinert

Only one officer is responsible for being the eyes and ears for the entire facility, controlling all doors, watching all cameras and all inmates, which can sometimes slows things down , especially in the heartbeat of the jail booking.

"We only have room for two people to be booked in, and on busy nights sometimes we have 20 to 30 people in here," says Heinert.

But according to Burleigh County Commissioner Mark Armstrong, the majority of the people currently held in the detention center shouldn't be in there.

"Of the 129 people in Burleigh county jail last night, 94 would be considered non-violent. We've got people in there for writing bad checks, for driving without liability insurance for failure to pay child support, for DUI and possession cases those are not violent offenders they've made some mistakes, they need some help, but they don't get it in our jail," says Armstrong.

Armstrong says putting offenders behind bars isn't the only option and social services would be a better solution.

"We need to get probation officers. We need to use the ankle bracelets better. We need to use technology. We need to stop putting nonviolent people in our jail, and we won't need a bigger prison"

Right now, both counties are forced to house inmates in other facilities across the state, and Heinert estimates the county will spend $600,000 on costs to house inmates outside of Burleigh. And according to both sheriffs the biggest cost paid isn't monetary.

 "It takes officers off the streets, for a whole day, when they could be doing other things to keep the community safe," says Shipman.

With the population expected to continue to increase in the Bismarck-Mandan area, Heinert says it's inevitable that the crime rate will too, and to ensure public safety the new jail is necessary.

The $70 million cost will be paid for by a half cent sales tax increase imposed by a home rule charter, that residents will vote on June 10.
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