In May 2012 I met with Northwest Judicial District Judges to discuss issues pertaining to their work in the Northwest Quadrant of North Dakota. As may be expected, given the oil boom in the quadrant, crime is way up. Not only are judges overworked, but so are municipalities with small police forces and small jail facilities. In fact, weekends find jails in the Quadrant overfull, and the only solution available is for municipalities to contract with a private prison in Bismarck to take the prisoners that cannot be accommodated locally. Local jails typically spend thirty two or three dollars ($33) per day to house and feed inmates. The private prison in Bismarck charges fourty-four dollars ($44) per night to pick prisoners up and return them. But there is a catch. Prisoners must state at the private prison for thirty (30) days.

Private prisons have a long history of abuse. They need to make money off of their prisoners, so conditions are too often dictated by cost. Even prisoners should not be subject to incarceration by private groups seeking to make money off of their incarceration, because inevitably, that leads to abuse of prisoners. Here in North Dakota, it is easy to see that in overloaded judicial districts, the tendency may be to sentence prisoners to thirty or more days prison time just to allow that they may be accommodated within prison walls—or conversely, to let them go because there is not where to house them.

What is more, the profit motive of private prisons means that medical care, security, food quality, maintenance, may all be compromised by the need for profit. There have even been cases in other states of private prisons cutting deals with judges to sentence more people to prison for longer terms in order that the private prisons increase profile.


Instead, we need to invest in building new incarceration facilities, hiring more judges and police, and creating safe communities through diligent oversight and responsible prosecution of the law.

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