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North Dakota's Prison Population Bucks National Trend

March 18, 2010

BISMARCK, N.D. - A yearly tally of state prison populations shows that, nationwide, numbers are lower than the previous year for the first time since 1972 - but not in North Dakota. The number of inmates in state prisons at the beginning of this year was 0.4 percent lower nationally than in 2009; about 5,000 less for a total of around 1.4 million. But North Dakota's state prison population rose by two percent - or about three dozen - over last year.

Adam Gelb, director of the Public Safety Performance Project for the Pew Center on the States, which issued the report, says the statistics demonstrate a shift in thinking has occurred within many states on managing public safety.

"There was an old way of approaching this issue; 'how do I demonstrate that I'm tough on crime?' But now, more and more policymakers are asking a better question; 'how do I get taxpayers a better public safety return for their dollars?'"

The tendency is to believe incarcerating more people is an indication a state is experiencing a lot of crime, says Gelb, while other factors are at play.

"It really is significantly a function of the decisions that are made by legislators, governors, parole boards and the courts about who they send to prison and for how long."

California's prisons experienced the greatest drop, with thousands of inmates released under new parole programs to try to save money. Joining North Dakota, Minnesota and South Dakota's prison populations also are rising, as is the number of inmates in federal prisons nationwide.

The full report is at www.pewtrusts.org/news_room_detail.aspx?id=57795.

Deb Courson, Public News Service - ND