Womens prison gets two-year reprieve

(Herald File Photo)





The legislative battles over the Dakota Womens Corrections and Rehabilitation Center in New England are over.

For now.


By Brad Mosher

The Herald



The legislative battles over the Dakota Womens Corrections and Rehabilitation Center in New England are over.

For now.

The only decision the state legislature came up with was to keep the facility open as it is for the next two years while doing a study on how to best utilize the facility and whether or not to keep women in New England.

For New England’s school superintendent, Kelly Koppinger, that means big decision for the building committee and a feeling of limbo for the community.

“The conference committee (in Bismarck) has decided to go with the two-year study, so right now, the women are going to stay here while they do a study to see the feasibility of moving the women to Bismarck and the possibility of moving the vocational

“So, they won’t do anything for the next two years,” the superintendent added.

He said that the school’s building committee will have to look at going ahead with the plans to upgrade the school to handle student growth and other needs, or to cut back in the size of the construction because of the additional two years of not knowing the future of the correctional facility. A third possibility was to not do any construction, he added, noting that that would mean the school would have to go back to the voters again for funding after a final decision is made about the prison facility.

“I think the first two options are the most viable options. We just need to make sure we make a responsible decision.”

“It will definitely be mentioned at the board meeting May 13,” he said.


Cautiously optimistic

Still, Koppinger was optimistic. “I think they will look at if it is fiscally responsible to move the women … number one. Then, number two, if they do, then what are they going to do with the facility here. I think they know that economically they can’t really do what they were planning to do… move the prison out of here.

“So, I think the outlook is pretty bright. If they do move it, I think they know that something else needs to come in here, like a vocational center,” the superintendent said.

“Actually, it has worked out okay. I like the fact they are planning on looking in what they can do here (in New England). They might not even move it. It depends on what the study shows.

“I think they (the state and the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation) are going to be a little more responsible.

“Nothing is set in stone and you can never know,” he added. “It was a good discussion and it worked out for us.”


Community wary

According to the New England mayor, Marty Opdahl, the people in the community are wary.

“In two years, there could be a possibility there would be a change in who’s in there, whether it would be minimum security men, but I don’t know for sure.

“I don’t think the legislators in two years will be able to get $80 million for a new facility (in the Bismarck area). That is what the governor wanted to do,” he said, noting that the legislators are really protective of the state’s legacy fund.

“We could be thankful for the two years that we have got. But there is no guarantee. He (the governor) is pretty disappointed about this. He thought everyone was going to be happy about his decision. He was really surprised by this (the negative response),” Opdahl added. “It was absolutely opposite what he was trying to do with his ‘Main Street Initiative’.”

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