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Corrections study begins

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The director of the North Dakota Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation learned something from the 2019 Legislature.

"I think the Department of Corrections failed, in trying to advocate for something, before it educated," said Leann Bertsch.

Bertsch advocated for significant change in where inmates are incarcerated. She wanted to move the women prisoners from the New England facility to the Missouri River Correctional Center in Bismarck – move the men from MRCC to the James River facility in Jamestown – take over the existing State Hospital for them – and build a new State Hospital.

Bertsch said she was "somewhat stunned" by what she described as a lack of understanding of the Corrections system.

"All too often, people associate the Department of Corrections with the North Dakota State Penitentiary," Bertsch said in an interview with Prairie Public. "It is a really important facility within our system. But we're much broader than that."

Bertsch said people forget about the 68oo adults the system has around North Dakota.

"If we had more resources, way more people could be successfully supervised and supported in the community, versus living in a jail or prison," Bertsch said.

An interim Legislative committee was created to take an in-depth look at Corrections.

"It's a real opportunity to educate policy makers on what we are trying to accomplish," Bertsch said. "In the next session, they will have a really good understanding of the infrastructure we do have, and the needs -- in physical plant, staffing and the level of service."

Bertsch said she's hoping to have a comprehensive plan addressing those needs, put into the Governor's budget proposal.

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