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Early paroles concern police

A state policy for paroling prisoners early isn't sitting well with Fargo police. The policy would cut the state's prison population by 45 percent in the next 10 years and save $2 million during the 2003-2005 biennium.

A state policy for paroling prisoners early isn't sitting well with Fargo police.

The policy would cut the state's prison population by 45 percent in the next 10 years and save $2 million during the 2003-2005 biennium. It was adopted by the North Dakota Parole Board based on a recommendation by the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

"In talking with police officers, the reaction is that these people should serve their full term," said Fargo Deputy Chief Dave Rogness.

"They don't want these people out any sooner than that."

A consulting firm hired by a legislative committee studied the state's prison system and concluded North Dakota's Parole Board is the most restrictive in the nation. It went on to say the board would only consider early release for inmates who have completed recommended treatment.


"Officers are concerned because so many are coming out (of prison) that there aren't enough parole officers," Rogness said.

"It's an issue we're going to have to confront. Most of the people in prison are from Fargo. They're going to come back to Fargo."

But parole officers -- the people in charge of providing direct supervision once offenders leave prison early -- say the policy won't affect them.

The corrections department oversees parole and probation programs throughout the state. There are 14 parole offices and about 60 sworn officers in North Dakota.

Four months ago the department began paroling prisoners early. The state's inmate population fell from 1,192 in June, when the new policy began, to 1,160 at the end of August.

The consulting firm's study also found the state's prison population had doubled since 1990 with no change in the number of parolees.

"We haven't seen an influx at this point," said Dan Seymour, district supervisor for parole officers in Fargo, West Fargo and Wahpeton. "We're waiting to see how it affects us."

There are 11 parole officers in the Fargo area carrying about 70 parole or probation cases each.


While the Parole Board may let prisoners out earlier, there's no indication more people are being let out, Seymour said.

Convicts who return to their hometowns may benefit with an earlier release, he said.

"Once they've been through treatment, returning to the community helps give them an opportunity to apply what they've learned," Seymour said. "Our philosophy is to give these people some tools to work with. If they are on supervision, we can continue to work with them."

However, an influx of parolees back to Fargo may just be a matter of time.

"We're speculating that it could create an additional caseload for an officer in Fargo and Bismarck," said Warren Emmer, director of the division which oversees parole and probation.

Emmer supports early parole, despite the potential for additional workload for those supervising ex-convicts.

Typically, the parole board released nonviolent offenders about 90 days before their prison sentence ended. Now many of those offenders will be released about 210 days early.

"We want these guys out earlier than they have been," Emmer said. "Ninety days isn't enough ... to get reconnected in their communities. We are going to try to get these guys ready for parole earlier."


Often, convicts leave prison without money or contacts who can help them integrate back into a community. Early parolees can benefit from the support and supervision by a parole officer, he said.

The state will benefit with a savings in prisoner costs, which is another reason early parole may be a good option for North Dakota, Emmer said.

"For one thing, we know the state's budget can't afford another prison," he said. "If we can do it without negatively impacting public safety, I think it makes sense."

Rogness, though, said national studies show that 75 percent to 85 percent of parolees are likely to re-offend and be back in prison within five years.

"We need to find a better way to help these people adjust so they don't go back," Rogness said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Steven P. Wagner at (701) 241-5542

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