Posted 1/08/20 (Wed)
A plan to help the state manage its prison population has shifted significant housing costs to counties in 2019, and created the potential or large and unexpected inmate medical costs for counties. The prison prioritization plan shifted $65,000 to counties in 2019, a cost that should be a state responsibility.
The Legislature during the 2017 Session, provided authority to the North Dakota Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (DOCR) to implement a prioritization plan in order to manage the prison population. In May 2019, DOCR notified sheriffs and jail administrators that the population of female inmates had reached its operational capacity as set by DOCR and the prison prioritization plan would be in effect for female inmates. The prioritization plan was in effect from June 1 through September 30th.
The interim Budget Section requested NDACo to provide testimony regarding the county impacts of the prioritization plan during their December meeting.
“NDACo has been following the prison population closely. In anticipation of the prioritization plan going into effect, we established a “self-reporting” tool for sheriffs and jail administrators to compile inmate information. This will assist in tracking the county impacts of the prison prioritization plan,” explained NDACo Government Affairs Specialist Donnell Preskey. The information includes the number of days the inmate is in a county facility (following the state’s denial of admission), and the housing and medical costs of each individual.
In the four months of the prioritization plan being in effect, DOCR denied admission for 79 inmates in 18 counties. Those inmates spent 870 days in county facilities instead of in the DOCR’s custody. At $75/day – this equates to a $65,250 expense that is now the responsibility of county taxpayers. This cost is just for housing.
“While that state sentenced inmate is in the county facility, that county is responsible for the medical costs as well. Fortunately, we have avoided a major medical event for these inmates. However, it is a question of when and not if; and those costs will be devastating to a county’s budget,” said Preskey.
With the male population growing as well, counties are bracing for how this could affect their budgets in the near future. Addressing this legislation is a top priority for the North Dakota Association of Counties as well as for the North Dakota County Commissioners Association in the next session. Both groups approved a resolution at the NDACo Annual Conference, which sets our legislative priorities. In short, this resolution directs NDACo to seek legislative changes and the funding necessary to either remove state-sentenced inmates from county jails or provide state funding to prevent shifting their housing and medical costs to property taxpayers.
These female inmates are individuals who a district court judge has sentenced on a state crime to the North Dakota Department of Corrections. With the prioritization plan in place, DOCR denied admission to these inmates until DOCR’s “operational capacity” allowed. This resulted in state-sentenced inmates, serving at least part of their sentence in a county facility, at the county expense – which falls on local property taxes.
Preskey explained, “The state has based the prioritization plan on DOCR’s ‘operational capacity,’ which is not solely based on available beds but the budget for those beds. While we recognize there are only so many beds, along with the legislative goal of improving corrections policy, we need to recognize that county facilities have operational capacities as well. This plan essentially uses property taxes to subsidize the DOCR budget.”
NDACo Resolution 2019‐06. Prison Prioritization Plan. The 65th Legislative Assembly mandated the North Dakota Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (DOCR) create a prison population management plan to prioritize inmate admissions based on available space in the state system. DOCR began delaying the intake of female inmates in the spring of 2019, forcing counties to maintain state‐sentenced inmates in county jails – shifting the housing and medical costs of those inmates to county property taxpayers. This Association supports legislative changes and the funding necessary to either remove state‐sentenced inmates from county jails or provide state funding to prevent shifting their housing and medical costs to property taxpayers.