Oil boom in North Dakota brings a rise in crime, prison population

Oil boom in North Dakota brings a rise in crime, prison population

It seems long ago now when North Dakota cities like Williston and Minot were quiet, sleepy towns. The oil boom has brought in workers from all across the country. With high-paying jobs and a boom in population, Williston has the highest rent in the nation, more than both New York City and Los Angeles. Along with the rise in wealth and population has come a rise in drug crimes, prostitution and drinking and driving arrests, however. And law enforcement in North Dakota has taken notice.

North Dakota's Land Board recently gave millions in grant money to law enforcement agencies across North Dakota's oil-production region. The money came from a $7 million Oil and Gas Impact Grant fund and a $9.6 allocation by the attorney general's office. According to Bloomberg News, the money will support sheriffs, police departments, prosecutors and regional law enforcement task forces.

A total of $240 million in impact grants will be given through 2015 to counties experiencing rapid growth from the state's oil boom. In addition, recently the Attorneys General for North Dakota and Montana asked Congress for more funding to combat human trafficking, believed to be a key element in the state's rise in prostitution and sex crime convictions.

Sentencing also may see reform

Increased law enforcement action is only part of the changes that may soon be taking place. The prison population in North Dakota has tripled in the past 20 years, according to the North Dakota Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. While the state remains low in per capita inmate population relative to other states, prison overcrowding has become a concern for legislators and judges across the state. About half of the current prison population in North Dakota were sentenced for non-violent crimes, according to the State Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Additionally, half of the prison population comprises of people relatively new to the state.

Legislators are also considering sentencing reforms for non-violent offenders. Drug courts, which promote drug treatment programs instead of incarceration, may become more popular. State Senator Ron Carlisle, the chair of an 18 member commission studying alternatives to incarceration, says that states such as Texas are finding that alternatives to sentencing are cheaper than building new facilities.

Representation can help

Unsurprisingly, courts have also had to shoulder increased workloads. For people accused of a crime in North Dakota, there may be little time for an overworked prosecutor or judge to scrutinize each case. That is why people charged with a crime should contact an experienced criminal defense attorney to discuss their legal options and to mount a strong defense in court.