North Dakota’s aim to stop the flow of people into jails and prisons and to provide more community support will be called Free Through Recovery. This effort will cost $7 million and will rely on the partnerships of social service, religious, cultural and mental health organizations throughout North Dakota.
To get the best results, Free Through Recovery will assess the people on probation to determine their risks and needs for a partnering program. They believe that bridging this gap between jails, prisons and the rehabilitation centers will help the probationers from wavering from their goals.
This new initiative will begin Feb. 1 with 600 offenders. If results from this social experiment turn out positive, the program may expand in the future.
The administrator of the Cass County Jail, Capt. Andrew Frobig, is open to the initiative, saying that about half of the jail’s inmates are repeat offenders. He goes on to say that most of the repeat offenders are for drug and alcohol problems and that they may go through the jail up to 10 times a year.
“I think it has potential,” Frobig said. “The person has to want to get cured of their addiction. They have to be a willing participant.”
This new experiment follows a 32 percent increase in incarceration from 2005-2015, a projected 75 percent increase by 2025 and a $64 million renovation and construction of the North Dakota State Penitentiary.
“If the effort is successful, North Dakota’s prison recidivism rate could drop from around 60 percent to the high 40-percent range,” Judge Frank Racek, presiding judge of the East-Central District Court said. “We’re not trying to eradicate it, but reduce the problem,” he added. “In the course of that, we have to make sure that the public is safe.”
Lisa Peterson, the clinical director for the North Dakota Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, compared the Free Through Recovery as preventative health as opposed to treating people with these problems in the emergency room.
“We can’t keep building our way out of the problem,” Peterson said. To prevent people returning to jail or prison, Free Through Recovery will target people that were recently released to help them once they return to the outside world.
Officials present said the drive to reduce the imprisonment rates reflects that the jail and prison systems that we have in place are often focused on punishing the offender and confining them. Therefore, the system fails to help the person rehabilitate outside of incarceration. This measure aims to help that.
“Criminalizing behavioral health isn’t helping anyone,” Pamela Sagness, director of behavioral health for the North Dakota Department of Human Services, said.