Declining revenue has resulted in an ongoing struggle to provide adequate treatment for inmates with addiction and mental health issues.
Carson Byram, who recently retired after a career in law enforcement and nearly seven years as a case manager at the Residential Re-entry Center, says that while he saw some progress in the center’s mission to rehabilitate offenders, treatment options have fallen off in recent years.
According to Byram, the idea was for the facility to be supported largely by housing federal inmates who were nearing the ends of their sentences. He says the location was prime due to its relative proximity to both the Spirit Lake and Turtle Mountain reservations.
“The primary clientele they were hoping to serve at the Re-entry Center was the federal inmate,” Byram said. “There is a need for federal halfway house facilities in the state, mostly because of our geographical position between the Spirit Lake reservation and the Turtle Mountain reservation.”
Because many felony-level crimes committed on reservations are handled federally, Byram says the location made sense when the Re-entry Center opened in 2010.
Those federal dollars have become more scarce over the years, according to Byram. He also points out that revenue generated from housing state inmates has similarly declined.
“We’ve seen our federal numbers plateau and (then) drop, and we relied more on the state system over the seven years I was there,” he said. “I think that has plateaued and may be in the process of dropping.”
The declining revenue has resulted in an ongoing struggle to provide adequate treatment for inmates with addiction and mental health issues, which Byram believes has adversely affected the center’s mission.
“I wish I could point to a lot of progress,” he said. “The drug problem is severe and increasing. Traditionally, and I think still, the number one problem in Indian country is alcohol. Meth kind of hit a plateau, and that has waned a little. Now it’s more heroin, opiates, prescription pills - they’re rampant.
“The hope when we opened was that we would provide the housing, basic necessities, room and board, then the treatment would be provided by the state human service center across the street,” Byram continued. “That worked to some success for a number of years, but now that has kind of dried up. It’s very difficult to get our people into programs over there.”
State budget issues have led to reduction in staffing at the Human Service Center, which has in turn led to the shuttering of initiatives such as a sex offender rehabilitation program that no longer exists.
City and county commissioners, judges, attorneys, law enforcement and other officials around the region have bemoaned the lack of treatment options, and Byram points out that those options have decreased over the years.
“The drug and alcohol treatment program has been reduced; they will no longer serve our inmates,” he said. “People who are classified as inmates in the state prison system they won’t serve, because they say that they are the responsibility of the Department of Corrections, not the Department of Human Services.
“They’ve been forced to cut corners,” Byram added. “They can’t serve the whole population, so they’ve had to narrow their focus. I don’t think they’re correct in keeping the state inmates out (of treatment), because they have proven themselves to be the most troublesome to society, whether it’s property crimes or violent crimes.”
He also says that “95 percent” of inmates in the state and federal systems will be released at some point, and a lack of resources available to smooth the transition to society and deal with addiction issues has a real impact in the community.
“Almost everybody in the system, definitely everybody at the Re-entry Center, they’re coming back to be our neighbors,” Byram said. “They’re going to be in Devils Lake, they’re going to be in the surrounding communities, they’re going to be working alongside us.”
Though those in positions of influence in the region and the state are focused on increasing treatment and de-emphasizing incarceration, questions have been more abundant than answers.
Now that Byram has retired after 37 years in law enforcement, probation and case management, he says he’s looking forward to a change of pace.
He plans to use some of his experience holding classes for inmates, teaching them transition skills such as impulse control and others in order to reduce recidivism, in his new part-time career: substitute teacher.
Byram says that his new job will not only allow him to stay connected to the Lake Region community, but will be a welcome change of pace from his previous career.
“I think it will be refreshing to work with kids as opposed to criminal adults,” Byram said.