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North Dakota considering bill to reduce strain on jails

Along with the overall population growth in North Dakota, the jails in the state have also seen an increase in the inmate population. Between 2008 and 2013 there was a 6.4 percent increase in the inmate population, which has resulted in all inmate beds being occupied as of the end of last year.

In an effort to look for ways to deal with this problem, a commission consisting of lawmakers, law enforcement, and representatives from the courts, corrections and human services were tasked with looking for alternatives to sentencing for first-time, nonviolent offenses, with the exception of drug distribution. The group voted to advance a bill that would reduce penalties for certain drug crimes as well as giving judges more discretion in cases that involved mandatory minimum sentencing.

According to the director of the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, many of the people in jail are those who were convicted of having drug paraphernalia. As the director points out, former users may not have gotten rid of all of their paraphernalia yet, and she does not believe laws making their possession illegal necessarily improve public safety. A state representative also noted that the state does not have enough treatment facilities, and because there is no place to put individuals in need of treatment, they end up in jail.

Due to mandatory sentencing, the type of charges someone faces can have enormous consequences including large fines and jail time. A criminal law attorney may be able to assist someone facing charges by ensuring that law enforcement acted properly and that evidence was collected lawfully. Additionally, a lawyer may also be able to arrange for a plea bargain that could reduce someone's charges and the penalties they face.

Source: InForum, "ND draft bills aim to ease burden on jails; drug paraphernalia offenses would be reduced", Mike Nowatzki , August 05, 2014

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