Bump in last month’s jail bill leads to discusson about addiction treatment

Chuck Wickenhofer

It was revealed at Tuesday’s County Commission meeting that the cost to run the Lake Region Law Enforcement Center spiked in May by about $10,000.  

The cost of jail operations has steadily risen this year from just over $57,000 in January to just under $84,000 in May. The bill for April was $73,575.

Director Rob Johnson reported in a memo that the May spike was due to the Memorial Day holiday, as two judges were out of town.  

“Some individuals likely stayed incarcerated longer than they would have had there been court,” Johnson wrote in the memo.

Johnson told the Journal recently that while inmate counts themselves are above their normal levels now, new jails with expanded capacity opening soon in both Ward County and Burleigh County, each of which currently send inmates to the LEC, will result in lower inmate counts here. The LEC budget is based on inmate counts, though Johnson reported in April that new fees put in place, such as one for a texting service for inmates, were devised to add additional revenue streams to the jail’s budget.

Another theme that Johnson has touched on in the past has been the availability of treatment services for inmates. That concern has been shared by members of local law enforcement and the judicial system for years, and the County Commission took up the discussion Tuesday.

Currently, the LEC has no in-house treatment for inmates with addiction and mental health issues.  

Commissioners expressed frustration with the situation, and the sentiment was that the cycle of incarcerating those who commit relatively minor offenses to fund addiction issues that they have few treatment options available to help address, offers little benefit compared to cost.

“We need to address mental health, addiction,” Ed Brown, commissioner and LEC rep, said. “Common sense has to take over soon.”  

Commissioner Lucas Wakefield told the Journal that he has a range of concerns, such as getting treatment to rural areas and addressing deeper causes surrounding addiction and crime.

“What concerns me is the lack of ability to get care out to rural areas. Where can you go if you’re low-income? Nobody is quite certain how to address these issues,” Wakefield said. “It’s hard to pin down.

“What I’ve seen is that there are a lot of issues that people seem to want to self-medicate to solve instead of seeking real treatment that gets to the underlying cause,” Wakefield added. “There’s a lot of treatment of symptoms, not a lot of treatment for root problems.”

While the issue is certainly not unique to the Lake Region, as communities around the country have struggled against addiction-related crime and a lack of effective treatment options, commissioners seem determined to continue to address the problem locally.

“We have low-level, non-violent repeat offenders with consistent drug problems, consistent behavioral health problems” Commissioner Adam Leiphon said. “Jail is not the place for those people.”