A Full Williston Jail Not Necessarily Evidence Of An Oil Patch Crime Problem
Readers keep emailing me this Associated Press story about Williston’s new jail – but just five years ago to quadruple the capacity of the previous jail – being full as evidence of the oil patch’s crime problems.
WILLISTON, N.D. — It was supposed to take a quarter-century for Williston to retire the bond on a multimillion-dollar jail and law enforcement center designed to handle prisoner growth for decades.
But just five years after the Williams County Law Enforcement Center opened the lockup is paid in full but also has reached capacity. The reason: the explosion of oil activity in western North Dakota.
“My 50-year jail turned into five,” Williams County Sheriff Scott Busching said. “I’m in the same shape I was before we built this thing. I’m full again.”
That’s certainly a problem that the Williams County community will need to address, but it has less to do with growth in crime than just plain growth in overall population. In other recent news, the civilian labor force in Williams County has doubled in the last two years, up to 36,538. When you consider that the 2011 US Census estimated population for Williams County was just 24,374 (unofficial estimates put the county’s population at more than double that number), you begin to see that the issue here isn’t a rise in crime but a tremendous spike in population.
And that’s not without it’s benefits. The county was supposed to take 25 years to pay off the bond for the jail, but instead they’re paying it off this year thanks to the half-cent sales tax the city put in place to pay for it. Given that taxable sales in Williston were up 76% in the first quarter of 2012 (Williams County is now second only to Cass County in taxable sales) there will be plenty of revenue to expand jail space.
Another complicating factor is the backlog in the courts. More people means more demand for court services which has meant a backlog in cases and people being kept in jail longer waiting for their day before a judge. Hopefully that will be alleviated soon as the courts have finished a review of their needs in the western part of the state and will ask the legislature for more resources.
The simple truth is that more people means more infrastructure is needed, up to and including cops and jails. Unfortunately, that’s not context many in the media are willing to give a story like this, hoping instead to fan the flames of public anxiety over oil patch crime.Tags: bakken, North Dakota News, oil boom, Oil Patch, williston