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Male prison inmate numbers level off; female inmates still increasing

BISMARCK - The number of men in North Dakota prisons may have finally leveled off or started to decline, state corrections officials told legislators this week.

BISMARCK - The number of men in North Dakota prisons may have finally leveled off or started to decline, state corrections officials told legislators this week.

Not so for the women. Female inmate numbers have jumped 12.24 percent in the past 18 months, well beyond the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation's projections, said Tim Schuetzle, prisons division director.

Another strong trend is the number of offenders on parole and probation, which has grown by more than 500 men and women since July 2005, said Warren Emmer, Corrections' field services director. He said the department projects the number of all offenders it is responsible for - inmates, parolees and those serving probation - will jump from about 6,200 now to nearly 10,000 by 2017. Relatively little of that growth will be made up of prison inmates, Emmer said. The total in 1999 was about 4,000.

Corrections officials had expected the men in the state's three prisons to be at 1,250 by last month. But after a spike last April of nearly 1,270, the numbers have declined every month but one since then and settled at 1,238 on Jan. 1.

The growth in women inmates, from 147 to 165 in the past 18 months, has offset the decline in male inmates. Total male and female inmates at the end of 2005 was 1,404. The total at the end of 2006 was 1,403.

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Methamphetamine gets the blame for virtually all the increases in both inmates and people under on parole and probation, just as it has every year for several years now. That's why much of the department's testimony to the House Appropriations Committee this week centered on various drug treatment options that continue to be developed for all offenders - and the increasing danger to parole and probation officers dealing with volatile meth users.

Emmer's officers used to supervise nondangerous offenders, but that has gone by the wayside, he said.

Now, he said, "Our officers are supervising all high-risk offenders, period."

Jennifer College, a Fargo parole-probation officer, told the committee that when she started her job in 1992, she did not wear a bulletproof vest or carry a weapon when she made home visits to check on offenders.

But because meth users make up the majority of those they supervise, she said, the vest is routine attire now.

The governor has recommended 14 more employees in the department's prisons division and 10 more parole-probation officers for the 2007-09 biennium.

The committee took no action. The House will make no decisions about the department's budget until February.

Cole reports from Forum Communications' Bismarck bureau.

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