Overzealous DUI Laws Have Exacerbated A Jail Space Problem


North Dakota’s jails are bursting at the seams:

Western North Dakota, in general, is having problems with lack of space in their jails — Busching cited Minot, Bismarck and Mandan as also lacking jail space.

Morton County Sheriff Dave Shipman said the Mandan jail can house 41 inmates on average, and currently has a regular intake of 35 per day. Sometimes the jail overflows, with about 50 inmates on particularly bad days.

“We can house some inmates in the Bismarck transition center,” he said, talking of solutions to the problem. “Sometimes we use electronic monitoring bracelets and put them on house arrest.”

“As a last resort, we throw a mattress on the floor at the jail and just keep them here,” he said.

The typical reaction to news about overcrowded jails in western North Dakota is grumping about the Bakken oil boom and the “wild west” atmosphere it’s created. That’s a little unfair as the jail space problem is simply a mathematical one. Many communities in western North Dakota have doubled in size, and more, in the space of just a few years. Obviously, public infrastructure designed for much smaller and slower-growing communities is going to be overwhelmed, up to and including the local jail.

More people inevitably means more crime, no matter what the cause of the population growth.

But here’s the thing: The legislature made this problem worse by caving to a campaign, driven less by objective data than sensational news reports from activist news outlets, to “get tough” on drunk driving.

There are a lot of reasons to believe that the new policies the legislature has passed will do little to actually make our roads safer by reducing injuries and fatalities resulting from alcohol-related crashes, but one impact of the legislation is clear: The new mandates for jail sentences in participation in law enforcement-monitored sobriety programs are going to tax already overtaxed jails and cops.

Here’s a run-down of what North Dakota’s new DUI laws, which just took effect earlier this month, have changed:

  • The minimum fine for first-time offenders goes from $250 to $500.
  • First-timers with a BAC twice the legal limit – 0.16 percent or greater – will now be guilty of a new aggravated DUI category with a minimum fine of $750 and a mandatory two days in jail or 20 hours of community service.
  • Repeat offenders get mandatory probation and participation in the 24/7 sobriety program which requires daily alcohol screenings.
  • Repeat offenders also face minimum sentences ranging from 10 days in jail for a second offense within seven years to one year and one day for a fourth offense and beyond.
  • A fourth offense, and all subsequent offenses, are now Class C felonies punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
  • Drunken drivers who kill another person now face a Class A felony offense punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
  • Refusing to submit to a blood/breath test is now as serious a crime as a DUI.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com. In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters.

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