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New Prison - Letter to Senator

Dear Senator,

I understand there is still some debate over allocating the $230 mil. for NDCS to build a new max/med prison. Director Frakes insists that there is no need for more Community Custody (CC) beds but I would like to present some facts to the contrary. If any budget allocation is made this session, it should be for Sen. Lathrop's LB 353 to build more CC beds.

In NDCS's own 2019-2023 Strategic Plan (pg. 9), they list their strategic priority of "PUBLIC SAFETY OUTCOME: All inmates deemed appropriate will transition through a community custody center (CCC) prior to release." They acknowledged that "[t]his allows them to be better prepared for their return to the community, while reducing the overall cost to the taxpayer." But yet the pie charts show that not even half (49%) of those released in 2018 (the most recent data in the plan) were "transferred through a community corrections center at any point during their sentence prior to their release." If their strategic plan is for all inmates to transition through CC but they are only able to accommodate fewer than half, then, obviously, they could use more CC beds. Why is the Director contradicting his own strategic plan and their own numbers.

I have also been told that the average wait for those classified for transfer to CC is 60 days. In my personal experience, I have only seen a couple of people transferred in under 60 days, most wait between 4-6 months, and some even longer. That does not appear to average to 60 days. In an attempt to get hard data on this topic, I made a public records request for the number of people transferred to CC each month last year. When averaged, it came out to 99 people a month. I then asked for the number of people classified for CC but pending transfer but NDCS claimed they didn't have this data. As they obviously know whom to transfer, they clearly can tell who is waiting to transfer. Perhaps they will release this data to a public records request from the Legislature.

The reason the time it takes to transfer is of importance is that, when the Parole Board (PB) sets a person's formal hearing date, they often set an expectation of a certain amount of time spent in transition through CC. If someone is not able to get transferred to CC with enough time to meet the PB's expectations, they are often denied or deferred parole. In the PB's Parole Hearings: Fiscal Year 2019 (7/1/18-6/30/19), they indicated that 80 people were deferred or denied because "transition time needed." With an annual NDCS operating budget of $226,600,000 for 2021(NDCS News Release Sept. 17, 2018), and an average population of 5315 people (Q4 Pop. Sum.), the average annual cost of keeping a person incarcerate for a year is approximately $42,500. A common parole deferment is for a year so those 80 people who were denied/deferred for lack of transition through CC probably cost taxpayers around $3.4 mil. For less than 2 years' cost of parole deferments due to lack of transition, NDCS could add another 100 person dorm like they did at CCCL in '17.

The bottom line is that it is part of NDCS's strategic plan to transition everyone through CC before their release. But they are currently only able to transition less than half of people through CC and this has cost the taxpayers at least $3.4 mil. in one year. Clearly, NDCS needs more Community Custody beds to accomplish their own plan.

Robert J. Heist II