Sheriffs speculate coronavirus might be leading to lower jail numbers

Published: Jul. 21, 2021 at 10:12 PM CDT
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - Before the pandemic, the inmate population at Burleigh Morton County Detention Center was trending upward. Officials say the numbers dropped during the pandemic and have now stabilized at lower levels. They say the new normal could be partially tied to a comprehensive push to keep individuals out of jail.

Jail doors opened for inmates during the pandemic.

“[In 2020] people that weren’t serious violent offenders and were likely to show back up [to court appointments] were actually being released,” said Burleigh County Sheriff Kelly Leben.

The inmate population is down from a pre-pandemic 300 to around 260 inmates residing in the facility, although officials say serious crime has stayed the same.

“I think there’s been some formal processes put in place, but I think there’s been a shift in philosophy,” added Leben.

Sheriff Leben said that the push for a comprehensive approach to crime and incarceration is not new. But substance abuse treatment center officials hope additional care options will help keep people from reoffending.

“As long as they’re not a threat to themselves or others, it allows them to support their families, it allows them to contribute to the economy, it allows them to do the things we all want to do. It’s hard to find recovery when you’re incarcerated,” said Heartview Foundation Medical Director Dr. Melissa Henke.

Dr. Henke says more agencies in the community are stepping up to support those on the road to recovery, and Heartview Foundation has seen its waiting list grow.

The Bismarck Police Department, Heartview Foundation, and Sanford Emergency Department have jointly applied for a Department of Justice grant to give individuals who overdose the ability to receive therapy earlier than with the current system.

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