ND senators to consider plan to build women’s prison in Mandan

Published: Feb. 28, 2023 at 4:59 PM CST
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - A $161.2 million proposal to construct a women’s prison in Mandan will be considered by state senators as part of House Bill 1015.

The state has never before built a correctional facility with women in mind. Yet prison staff say men’s facilities aren’t always set up to meet the needs of women in the system. Advocates for a new facility in Mandan say change is needed as more women than ever before are incarcerated.

235 women are incarcerated now. Among them are mothers/caregivers of more than 400 children. Most of the women are dealing with trauma, substance abuse, or mental health issues. Many come into the Dakota Women’s facility in New England pregnant. Some say the location and structure of the New England facility, which was originally a boarding school, makes it difficult to address the issues the women face.

“Having a facility located in Mandan, in the Bismarck-Mandan metro area, makes it much easier to have those professionals who are located more in this area than they are out in New England. So, it is easier to get people into those appointments,” said Dave Krabbenhoft, director of the North Dakota Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

A major concern for prison staff is access to mental health treatment for the women.

“The mental health needs of the women has grown substantially in the past couple of years. We are seeing a lot of very mentally ill women that are coming to the prison system that really aren’t appropriate for the prison system and it is a struggle to house them and meet their needs while they are here. A different facility with a better design to address those needs would certainly help accommodate that,” said Rachelle Juntunen, Dakota Women’s Correctional warden.

Juntunen says it is rare for mentally ill women in the system to be accepted into the state hospital. She says a full-scope facility is needed to reduce crowding and concentrate areas of care.

Staff say their ultimate goal is to make better neighbors. Around 98% of women inmates eventually come home. Most return in three to five years.

“Bottom line is these people are coming home. Do you want them to be angry and worse and more of a criminal? Or do you want them to come home and be a good neighbor and reconnect with their kids, pay taxes like all of us, and break that cycle of incarceration?” said Krabbenhoft.

Some folks in New England don’t want to see the women moved to Mandan because of how enmeshed the prison is with the town. The current correctional center is a customer of water, sewer and garbage, and provides employment opportunities for the town.

If the plan goes forth, the old building is set to take on another purpose.

Governor Doug Burgum said the state could be risking legal action due to unequal opportunities for men and women in the system. People sued the state in a 2003 class action lawsuit claiming unequal treatment of women inmates. That lawsuit was dismissed in 2009.

Previous Coverage: ND House advances bill to upgrade the women’s prison