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Politics & Government

Committee looking at 'exploding' prison population

"It seems like every day is a new record at the Department of Corrections. And not in a good way."

That’s how Department of Corrections Deputy Director of Transitional Planning Services Tom Erhardt described the exploding state prison population to the Legislature’s interim Incarceration Committee. That committee is studying the issue of the prison population – and what steps could be taken to help reduce the population.

There are 1783 inmates in the state’s prisons right now. And the Department is projecting that could rise to nearly 3000 by 2025. State corrections director Lee Ann Bertsch says some of the factors that have gone into the number of people behind bars is an increase in the number of felony crimes, as well as mandatory sentences.

"At the end of the day, we want to change criminal behavior," Bertsch told the Committee. "All this criminalization and locking people up is not changing criminal behavior. So how do we get at that? More is better, more punishment -- does not work."

Bertsch also told the committee there needs to be more treatment for addictions and for mental illness. She says two years ago, a national consultant said the North Dakota behavioral health system is in crisis – and not much was done with that report’s recommendations.

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