Criminal Justice Reforms Could Cut North Dakota Prison Population in Half by 2025, ACLU Report Says

August 14, 2019 3:00 pm

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North Dakota can cut incarceration in half and save millions of dollars by pursuing reforms to different areas of the criminal justice system, according to the ACLU of North Dakota’s newly released Blueprint for Smart Justice report.

The report highlights sensible reforms that, if implemented, would mean 1,015 fewer people in the state’s prison system by 2025, saving taxpayers more than $125 million that could be invested in schools, services and other resources that would strengthen communities.

Proposed reforms include:

  • Improving community supervision to ensure that probation is used as prison alternative
  • Decriminalizing marijuana possession
  • Reforming parole practices so that “Truth-in-Sentencing” laws do not require excessively long stays in prison
  • Ending arrest and incarceration for certain low-level charges and referring people to behavioral health centers when needed
  • Expanding the availability of earned credits against a prison sentence through participation in educational, vocational and other opportunities

“This blueprint outlines the key drivers of mass incarceration in North Dakota and makes a strong case for a bold, forward-thinking reform agenda that will prioritize people, not prisons,” said Dane DeKrey, advocacy director for the ACLU of North Dakota. “Real criminal justice reform like this will require leadership and commitment from our legislators, police, district attorneys, judges, and people in each part of the system, and it’s our hope that this blueprint will help inspire and guide this much-needed reform.”

The Blueprint for Smart Justice report includes an overview of North Dakota’s incarcerated populations, including analysis on who is being sent to jail and prison and the racial disparities that are present, what drives people into the system, how long people spend behind bars, and why people are imprisoned for so long. It also offers a calculation on the impact of certain reforms by 2025 on racial disparities in the prison population, fiscal costs, and progress toward a 50 percent decarceration goal.

The report is a part of the ACLU’s Smart Justice 50-State Blueprints project, a comprehensive, state-by-state analysis of how states can transform their criminal justice systems, and is the result of a multi-year partnership between the ACLU and the Urban Institute to develop actionable policy options that capture the nuances of local laws and sentencing practices.

An interactive website presents the reports and allows users to visualize the reductions in jail and prison populations that would result from the policy decisions. The North Dakota report can be found at

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The ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice is an unprecedented, multiyear effort to reduce the U.S. jail and prison population by 50% and to challenge racism in the criminal legal system.