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A “presumptive probation” bill is wending its way through the North Dakota Senate and Kelly Armstrong gets it, “People who practice [law] in North Dakota are very skeptical of this section.” As well they should be.

Who is promoting this? The Council of State Governments Justice Reinvestment Initiative (CSGJRI). Their website has all the warm, fuzzy gobbledygook so popular with our ex-Prez’s “Let my convicts go” and the dire warning, “the North Dakota Department of Correction and Rehabilitation projects that its prison population will continue to climb by 75 percent by 2025.”

The same line troweled out by DOCR Director Leann Bertsch who blames increased criminal laws passed in North Dakota as the problem, “Every time there’s a conduct people don’t like we put a criminal penalty on it.” HUH? Not a double-digit population increase? Too many statutes? Really?

Ice cream headache! Folks, North Dakota is one of the most unregulated state in this union. Substance abuse penalties are non-existent! Bertsch just doesn’t want to admit that the 18 percent population increase is the real reason for the crime increase. I’ve harped on the perpetual underfunding of prison space before, so, suffice it to say that she and CSGJRI are just plain wrong.

In October, 2015, Gov. Jack Dalrymple and a select committee commissioned CSGJRI to “explore a justice reinvestment approach to reduce corrections spending and reinvest savings in strategies that can reduce recidivism and improve public safety.” Huh? How do you spend less money on catching and punishing criminals and, yet, improve public safety?

For you snowflakes, that’s called an oxymoron. Because, when you data mine CSGJRI’s own 2016 report, you find that even they admit that from 2005-13, our violent crime increased 99 percent and aggravated assaults increased by 129 percent while county jails bore the brunt of the incarcerations. In fact, between 2006-13, our jails had the third highest rate of growth in the country.

CSGJRI’s solution? Analyze data and develop policy options, adopt new policies and put reinvestment strategies into place, and measure performance. Translation: we’s agonna stop incarcerating thugs, pass the cost on to the county taxpayers of those we do, recommend statutes gutting drug enforcement and then be amazed when it all blows up. Sound familiar? The ‘ol Obamanite catch & release. Lets ask Chicago how that’s working for them.

Essentially this current bill telling judges that they must sentence class A misdemeanors and class C felonies to probation, is simply the reverse of the mandatory sentencing initiatives of the 1990’s. As if these people are being sentenced to prison anyway for a first offense. Do you have any idea how big a screw-up you have to be to get sentenced to actual incarceration right now?

And, frankly, who’s in the best position to know when prison is the answer? Local judges who actually hear evidence and make local decisions or, bureaucrats 100 miles back east in Bismarck? Because a mandatory requirement to find “aggravating circumstances” before incarceration is simply going to increase appeals to the NDSC when judges do what they already do—determine aggravating and mitigating factors when they sentence these guys NOW.

This bill simply removes judge’s discretion by presuming that all offenders need to be placed on probation AND guts the drug penalties in North Dakota. Hence why the position of the ND States Attorneys Association, “We understand what the concept is. But in our experience, the people we see (sentenced to prison) are clearly going to fall into the aggravating factor category (anyway)”. So, Bismarck, what’s the point?

Pat Merriman is the Dunn County State Attorney. He is a photographer and also officiates high school and college athletics events in the area.

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