The director of the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation told a Senate committee Thursday the Missouri River Correctional Center should stay where it is.
Legislators are considering whether the minimum security prison, which sits on 900 acres along the Missouri River, should be moved to near the state penitentiary grounds.
A bill introduced early in the session was changed to move the prison to the Youth Correctional Center just west of Mandan, after Corrections Director Leann Bertsch, told lawmakers a move to the penitentiary would compromise safety and security.
But Bertsch told the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday a move to the YCC site, where her department owns about 1,200 acres of land, would still present problems.
“We would just like the MRCC to stay where it is at,” Bertsch said.
The bottom line that it’s not prudent to have a prison with adult inmates near a facility with both female and male juvenile inmates, Bertsch said.
“You can’t mix adults and juveniles,” she said.
House Bill 1312, proposes $200,000 to study moving the MRCC, with a July 2014 deadline to complete the study.
It also would set aside $25 million from the state’s general fund for the corrections department land fund, similar to how the penitentiary’s $64 million expansion and renovation project was funded. That project is targeted for completion in June.
Funding for the penitentiary expansion was approved by the Legislature in 2009.
The current bill proposes to turn the present site of the MRCC into a state park.
Inmates in the 154-bed minimum security prison have been moved twice in the past four years when the Missouri River flooded, most recently in 2011 for five months.
They were housed at YCC during that time, after sandbagging the grounds at the MRCC.
Bertsch said relocating the prison adjacent to the YCC site would mean one of the facilities would have to be fenced in to provide “sight and sound separation.”
Neither facility is fenced in now.
Rep. Alon Wieland, R-West Fargo, introduced the bill for the move. It is backed by Sen. Ron Carlisle, R-Bismarck, who lives near the current location of the MRCC.
Wieland said the move would save money through shared services and facilities and eliminate evacuations because of flooding.
He said the next Legislature would have to approve the move and any actual work on a relocation is at least two years away.
Carlisle said the idea is to transform the area into a primitive day-use park with no development. Plans in the original bill for a boat ramp have been scraped.
Sen. Bill Bowman, R-Bowman, a vice chairman of the committee, questioned the motives behind the bill.
He asked if flooding was the main concern, or, “Is it because they want a park?” Bowman said there are long-term plans in the works to build a dike to protect that area from flooding.
“Isn’t a dike cheaper?” he asked Wieland.
Bertsch said her department has committed $339,000 as its share of the dike project on the city’s south side.
She said a move also would affect job programs now in place at the prison and result in lost income from irrigated land that is leased to farmers.
Bertsch said the building that houses the prisoners was built in 1991 and while other buildings need maintenance, that is being taken care of “board by board.”
“This could come up again as soon as tomorrow (Friday),” said the committee chairman, Sen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks.
Jeff Zent, a spokesman for Gov. Jack Dalrymple, said the governor was traveling Thursday and not available for comment, but he did not include the proposal as a part of his executive budget.