Burgum stresses need for addiction treatment during prison reform roundtable with President Trump, fellow governors

Thursday, August 9, 2018 - 6:00pm

BISMARCK, N.D. – Gov. Doug Burgum today highlighted the state’s prison reform efforts and the need to address addiction as he joined President Donald Trump, administration officials and a small group of fellow governors and attorneys general for a State Leaders Roundtable on Prison Reform in Bedminster, N.J.

Those attending the meeting discussed the importance of prison reform at the state level, including successes and challenges, as well as the federal prison system and efforts to pass prison reform in Congress. The President stressed the need for employment opportunities for former inmates and noted there is broad political support for prison reform.

In his remarks, Burgum noted the high rates of addiction among North Dakota’s prison population and thanked President Trump for his administration’s efforts on the addiction issue.

“We can’t solve a chronic health care problem with punishment. We’ve got to treat it like a disease and solve it that way,” Burgum said to the President. “In the end, we’re trying to create better neighbors, not better prisoners. … It’s education, it’s career skills, it’s treatment. Those are the things we have to focus on. If we can do that, we can turn people’s lives around and add people to the workforce. We know we need that because we have so many jobs open in the country.”

North Dakota’s prison reform efforts, led by Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Director Leann Bertsch and supported by the governor, have included:

  • The Free Through Recovery program, which provides participants with a care coordinator who uses creative strategies to ensure the incarcerated adult’s recovery needs are being met.
  • Implementation of a transitional housing unit so incarcerated adults can reintegrate back into society, increasing work release from the Missouri River Correctional Center by 200 percent within the last three years.
  • Reducing the use of restrictive housing (solitary confinement) by 70 percent since 2015.
  • Increasing by 100 percent volunteerism by community members bringing services into corrections facilities, which increases community interaction.
  • Increasing enrichment activities and family interactions throughout the year.
  • Revamping the correctional officer training and hiring processes.
  • Implementing prison prioritization and restorative justice plans.

“We’re grateful for the opportunity to update President Trump and his administration on North Dakota’s innovative efforts to reform our corrections system, which have started to gain national attention,” Burgum said, pointing to recent articles in Governing and National Public Radio. “It’s encouraging to hear we share support for reasonable, compassionate reforms and evidence-based programs that reduce recidivism rates and give inmates who complete their sentences a second chance to become contributing members of society, which will help us build stronger communities, address our workforce needs and save taxpayer dollars.”

Burgum attended the meeting with Govs. Matt Bevin of Kentucky, Nathan Deal of Georgia, John Bel Edwards of Louisiana and Phil Bryant of Mississippi, along with Attorneys General Pam Bondi of Florida and Ken Paxton of Texas. Senior Adviser to the President Jared Kushner, Senior Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry and Labor Secretary Alex Acosta were among the administration officials who attended.

Perry is scheduled to visit North Dakota next week for tours of North American Coal’s Falkirk mine and Great River Energy’s facilities in Underwood, as well as a roundtable with local energy leaders, U.S. Sen. John Hoeven and Rep. Kevin Cramer announced today. Burgum will join Perry on the Falkirk tour at 9:50 a.m. Monday.