DWCRC survives first round in state legislature

Local officials and residents expressed shock with the surprise announcement by Gov. Doug Burgam a week ago that the womens correctional facility would be closed in New England and moved to another location. Herald photo / Brad Mosher

The attempt to close the Dakota Womens Correctional and Rehabilitation Center in New England and move the inmates to Bismarck failed to pass a House Appropriations subcommittee vote Feb. 11 in Bismarck.

Staff Report

The Human Resources Division of the committee gave a “Do Not Pass” recommendation twice as the proposal moves over to the Senate Feb. 22 on “Crossover Day.”

There were three votes on the New England correctional facility. The first, to close the facility, failed. So did the second vote to swap inmate populations.

A third vote to leave the prison alone and move it to the Senate passed by a 4-2 margin. In addition, it advised a “Do Pass” for a study be conducted of the prison and its facilities, according to the DWCRC warden, Rachelle Jununen.

The vote was for the prison to stay as-is, the warden added.

According to Father Gary Benz of the St. Mary’s Catholic Church next to the prison, there is hope that the Senate will also come to the same decision after the legislature’s “Changeover Day.”

If the closure is denied in both houses, it could be brought up again in the next biennium session in 2021, Fr. Benz said.

“I was surprised by the decision,” he added. “Hopefully, it will give them the chance to make the changes that they (the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation) want over the next two years.”

He did admit that considering the position the DOCR took, that they continue to push for closure, even in the interim, should the Senate come to the same decision as the House.

“The warden will have to be very careful (working with the DOCR),” he added.

Fr. Benz was one of the New Englanders who testified in Bismarck in early January in favor of the womens correctional center staying open.

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