Warden faces state’s ‘remote problem’ head on

Rachelle Juntunen

It seems the state of North Dakota thinks that the city of New England is too remote, even for inmates in the Dakota Womens Correctional Rehabilitation Center on Main Street.

By Brad Mosher

The Herald

That may be the biggest reason behind a move by the governor and the Department of Corrections to transfer all of the women from New England.

The director of the Department of Corrections, Leann Bertsch told the warden of the New England facility, Rachelle Juntunen, in December.

According to the warden, Bretsch’s biggest argument for closure is the remote location.

“Having it in New England makes it very difficult for the ladies to have visits from their children. It is just so far, even for a family to come Fargo or Grand Forks. Even if they have the financial means, her argument (Bretsch) is that they don’t have the time to spend all day in a car to come out and then all day back,” she explained Jan. 2 to a meeting of members of the Southwest Multi-County Corrections Center’s board and several members of the state legislature.

The distance is something that can’t really be argued about, Juntunen told the board. “It just is what it is. We are in southwest North Dakota and you have to go a long way to be here.

“Whether or not it makes it financially worth the money it will take to move them, that will have to be determined.

Another complaint from the appointed director of corrections was the lack of an SAU Unit (Special Assistance Unit) in New England, Juntunen said.

By comparison, the men’s medium security facility in Bismarck has a floor set aside for inmates in need of special housing accommodations or medications. “It is dedicated for the men specifically with mental health issues that can’t operate in the general population. It is highly staffed (in Bismarck) and very involved with them to address their mental health needs.

“We don’t have one of those (SAU) in New England. A few years ago, we had an architect come in and look at possibly adding on for that reason,” Juntunen explained.

It ran into one big problem. “The Department of Corrections, at that time, did not support any additional funding in New England,” the warden said.

The New England facility made an arrangement with the state hospital to parole the ladies there, Juntunen said. “Or the would go in and be treated acutely and then, they’d come back.”

Even so, there would normally not be many ladies eligible for a NAU in New England, the warden explained.

“It doesn’t really make sense to fund a unit which might be empty for a great majority of the year. At any given time, we might have three people that would qualify for the Special Assistance Unit and in the next six months, we may have zero.”

According to Juntunen, it was only when Bretsch brought it up that it became an issue.

Access to health care?

“She doesn’t like that we drive them (inmates) to Dickinson. Sometimes, we have to take them to a specialist. We have had a few prenatal and one that they were very concerned about the baby. We sent her to a specialist in Fargo for some testing,” Juntunen said.

“One of the things she (Bretsch) brought up was the need to Life Flight them (inmates) to Bismarck. She thought it was inappropriate… because the men don’t have to be. But then she said that some of the men have been Life Flighted to Minnesota.”

According to Plaggemeyer, the standards for the inmates are no different than for the public. “If we have a problem and need to go to a specialist, it si like the people in Bismarck. They’ll go to Minneapolis or whereever. That is going to happen.

“To make that an issue, I don’t see where that is broke either,” Plaggemeyer said.

Lack of mental healthcare?

A claim that mental health care is lacking in the New England facility keeps being brought up, according to Juntunen.

“We have a psychologist that we can use as needed,” the warden said. “The Departmnt of Corrections actually supplies us with a psychiatrist,” she added.

The corrections officials complained about one former psychiatrist because they didn’t like his prescribing technique, Juntunen said. “They didn’t like his follow up … he was seeing too many people. He was seeing 70 ladies in a month. They (the Department of Corrections) thought that was excessive.

“So, they found a replacement. We contracted with Dr. David Lopez through Telehealth.

“They took issue with that saying all of the psychiatrists had snowed them. But that was not an issue with Dr. Lopez,” Juntunen added.

“At the time, I was told they hired Dr. (Madeline) Free. They were going to bring her on within the department. She would supplying treatment to the women to because they had hired her full-time snd would have the hours to be able to provide it.

“So, we took it out of our budget. I thought good… we have extra hours and the same psychiatrist,” the warden explained.

Methadone

Juntunen admitted methadone is an issue for the New England womens facility.

“If the men are coming into prison on methadone, they continue to provide it at Heartview (a local chemical rehab foundation) or the state penitentiary. 

“We don’t have a methadone program in Dickinson, but we have been working with Dr. Hagan, the medical provider, to provide suboxone (a drug for treating opiod dependence) to the females.

“The only thing … if you have a pregnant lady that is on methadone, you can not take her off methadone when she is pregnant or she will very likely miscarry because of the withdrawal process and cramps,” the warden explained.

Once, the New England facility got a call from Cass County that they were bringing a pregnant woman who was on methadone. “We had to stop the transport because we couldn’t treat her. The Department of Corrections had to work with Cass County and contract to keep her there through her pregnancy … or until she could be paroled into a methadone program,” the warden explained. “That has happened once and it has been in the last year.”

According to Juntunen, methadone is highly regulated and a doctor’s prescription is required. In addition, there is not a methadone program in southwestern North Dakota now, she added. “Even the storage of it is very highly regulated,” she said.

The warden said that New England would have to have a secure place to store Methadone and have people trained to administer it before it could be available to inmates at the facility. In Bismarck, she added, the methadone is brought to the mens facility once a week and the trained nurses administer it to the men inside the walls every day.

“We could do that in New England. I think we could get Heartview to do it (in New England). It is highly regulated and we’d have to be very careful with it, but I don’t see any reason why if they do it at the state penitentiary we can’t do it in New England,” the warden said.

Methadone treatment is only available at a few locations in the state, according to Juntunen. “It is only available in Cass County Jail, Burleigh County, and Minot. So there is three jails in the state that they (inmates) can get it. If any of the other jails come to us, they (inmates) are already detoxed off methadone. So, it is not even something they are coming in on. …. and a lot of the times, they are detoxed before they even get to us.”

Responding to a question from Rep. Mike Lefore, Juntunen said she felt there could be a program put in place at the DWCRC.

“Sixty-eight percent of the new arrivals are gone within 90 days or less,” the warden told the board members and legislators at the meeting.

“The inconvenience to those families for 90 days is really minimal,” Rep. Mike Leflore said during the meeting.

“What is happening when they are leaving our facility … The DWCRC has really become like a processing unit since 2014. The number has really skyrocketed. The ladies come to us and spend the first 30 days in what we call orientation. We are assessing them for chemical dependency. We are assessing them for mental health needs…. what their education needs are and what their medical needs are,” the warden said.

“They are placed in a case plan … when to come in if they need medical treatment or chemical dependency treatment, their recommended programming needs … and when it will be likely they (inmates) will be reviewed by the parole board.

“After 30 days, they are classified. There is a custody level that is set – whether they are minimum, medium or maximum security. Then, their case plan is given to them. A lot of them are transferring or going in for treatment within 90 days.

“(For) the great majority of them, it is 60 days or less. We are accepting these ladies and they are leaving,” the warden explained.

“The great majority of them are moving into the urban areas (from New England),” she added.

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