Some things just make sense. U.S. Attorney for North Dakota Timothy Purdon suggests developing halfway houses and other post-release services on reservations for Native American prison inmates closing in on the end of their sentences.
Ninety-five percent of Native Americans in North Dakota who are convicted in federal court return to the reservation. Yet qualified Native American inmates end up in halfway houses and transitional living programs that are off the reservation.
As soon as their time is up, they migrate back to the reservation, back home, where there are few support services. It fuels recidivism.
Purdon was speaking to the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp is a member. She stressed in her comments the need also to bring federal courts onto the reservation so that people living there could better see the consequences of law-breaking.
Presently, the scenario works something like this: The Native American inmate preparing to complete his or her sentence goes to a halfway house or transitional living center in Bismarck.
Working with the staff there, the inmate gets a job and connects with support services that are supposed to help successfully re-enter society. Once their sentences are completed, the inmates go home to the reservation, where none of those supports exist. And they return to the problem situations that landed them in trouble in the first place.
Creating support services like halfway houses on the reservation would not be simple or inexpensive, unless it’s compared to the cost of incarcerating repeat offenders. Then it makes sense. The human cost of locking people up far exceeds the financial burden of prison.
There are not many post-release kinds of infrastructure on North Dakota reservations — that’s part of the reason some people ended up in prison in the first place. Developing it would take a huge commitment — not just federal, but also tribal. It must be culturally based. But it could be very effective once it’s in place.
Something like this isn’t going to happen overnight. It would take a great deal of planning, perhaps some experimental projects and a willingness to work through the issues. So far, what we’ve been doing hasn’t worked so well.
The Senate should seriously consider Purdon’s proposals.