On this episode of Plain Talk Leann Bertsch, head of the North Dakota Department of Corrections, joined me to talk about the progress toward moving female inmates out of a troubled facility in New England, North Dakota.
Or, more accurately, lack of progress. This week the state House voted to study the issue instead of taking up Governor Doug Burgum’s proposal to move the female inmates to a facility near Bismarck which currently houses men, while moving those men to Jamestown.
Bertsch says reticence from the Legislature will invite a lawsuit.
“If the Legislature doesn’t act we’re going to get sued,” she said.
She said conditions at the Dakota Women’s Correctional and Rehabilitation Center, which is operated by a consortium of six western counties under a contract with the state, are so bad the constitutional rights of prisoners are being violated.
“It’s absolutely an 8th amendment right [for prisoners] to have access to the community level standard of care for medical and dental services,” Bertsch told me. “I don’t think we’re meeting that in that facility.”
Things are so bad, Bertsch says one inmate told lawmakers during committee testimony she had to resort to doing her own dental work.
“One of our former residents, one of the ladies, stood up and said there is such a long waiting list she actually had to pull her own tooth because she was in such bad pain because she never got to the dentist,” Bertsch said.
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