On Tuesday the Ward County Commission unanimously approved a request to implement a "good time" policy at the Ward County Jail, which will reduce the time non-violent offenders will have to spend in jail if they behave well.
Effective immediately all new sentences for non-violent offenders will be subject to the new rule as long as they are sentenced to 31 days or more. The maximum allowable reduction is one day after each six days served of their sentence.
The jail will put it in the hands of the inmate to decide whether they will comply with rules and get a possible early release.
A jailer works at a computer behind the glass at the booking station at the Ward County Jail in Minot Tuesday. The jail has implemented a “good time” policy to free non-violent offenders sooner if they comply with the rules and behave.
"We're doing it for two reasons. One is to get cooperation from the inmates in the jail because if they get a write-up they lose their good time. So, it's to achieve their cooperation," said Sheriff Steve Kukowski in an interview following the county meeting. "And to alleviate some of the overcrowding and getting them out through good behavior."
The Ward County Jail has a capacity of 104 inmates but has regularly overflowed in recent years. On Monday the jail had 138 inmates, but dropped to 120 by Tuesday.
A lot of that population is from other jurisdictions, Kukowski said, who are then processed and sent on to the state penitentiary, to Bismarck or Jamestown for an evaluation, or to the jurisdiction where the warrant was issued.
"We get our numbers down that way and then that happens all during the week until Friday when we build them back up again because there's no court," he said. "We have to wait to Monday to go to court."
Even when the numbers are down they're still up in terms of capacity, which is further aggravated by state laws to house different types of inmates from each other. No females with males, no juveniles with adults, no pre-sentence inmates with sentenced inmates and dangerous and special needs inmates from the general population.
But in that same chapter in the North Dakota Century Code, Kukowski found this tool to help him decrease those bustling numbers further.
The law states that jail administers can seek permission from the presiding judge of the judicial district housing a correctional facility for the good time policy. Kukowski met with Judge William McLees, who saw it the same way, and gave his blessing following a consultation with the other judges. Then the commissioners gave their approval without question or comment.
McLees will be retiring from the bench at the end of June but Kukowski doesn't feel like the program will have to be brought up again for review under his replacement.
"They may look at this and say, 'well, if I can get in the court and get my sentence I can start serving it, get credit for time served, and maybe get out a little earlier.' So, it depends on how they want to look at it and it's up to the inmate, certainly," Kukowski said of inmates, especially pre-sentence inmates.
"I think it's something that at this point with our population we need to take a look at. It will help with inmate behavior," said jail commander Capt. Penny Erickson. "One of the pluses of having it is that you hope that the inmate will have better behavior hoping that if they do have better behavior they can get out."
She added that the jail already has penalties for bad behavior in place but that other jail administrators she spoke with have advocated for the program and have tried it in their facilities.
They learned, she said, that positive motivation can be as effective, if not more effective, than negative motivation in getting inmates to comply with rules.
The policy will effect only those inmates sentenced from Tuesday onward. Kukowski said that the policy can be rescinded at any time if it doesn't work out.