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A 185-foot-long housing unit that once provided temporary space for workers in North Dakota’s oil patch is getting a fresh start as living quarters for minimum-security inmates at a transitional facility south of Bismarck.

Inmates on work release were scheduled to start moving into the modular unit this week at the Missouri River Correctional Center.

Leann Bertsch, director of the state Department of Corrections of Rehabilitation, said the unit being leased from Target Logistics will provide an additional 36 beds to help address a lack of capacity at Missouri River, where all 155 beds currently are full.

The unit’s single-bed rooms will offer more privacy for inmates who have to work in the morning and may find it difficult to get a good night’s sleep in Missouri River’s dormitory-style housing, she said. Each pair of rooms is connected by a shared bathroom and shower.

“They’re small rooms, but they’ll have their own rooms, so privacy is a big factor,” she said.

A smaller, adjacent unit will serve as a commons area and dayroom with a kitchenette.

The state spent $60,000 to transport and put the units together and is paying Target Logistics $35 per bed per day, or $1,260 daily, for the housing unit, corrections officials said.

Bertsch said the department had been considering shipping some inmates to Colorado to alleviate capacity issues. But that posed the likely and undesirable scenario of minimum security inmates landing in a medium- or maximum-security facility, she said.

It also would have cost more than temporary housing at a time when most state agencies, including corrections, have been ordered to cut 4 percent from their 2015-17 budgets to help cover a $1 billion revenue shortfall.

“It really makes sense to avoid excess costs,” she said.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple proposed $30 million in his 2015-17 executive budget to replace the Missouri River Correctional Center with an expanded facility because of flood damage, mold and ongoing maintenance concerns. But state lawmakers cut the project from the budget as falling oil prices clouded the state’s revenue picture.

With the budget situation having worsened since then, Bertsch said it’s “highly unlikely” the 2017 Legislature will fund the project, and the modular unit “could become a longer-term solution.”

Target Logistics spokesman Randy Pruett said the 36-bed unit was part of a crew camp near Tioga that housed workers for a specific construction project, and the intent was always to move the units elsewhere when the project was completed.

“These things are being put to use, and we’re always looking for other opportunities and other ways to do that,” he said.

Don Redmann, director of facility operations for the corrections department, said the setup will give work-release inmates “a little more normal” as they prepare to transition to life on the outside.

“One of the goals is to get them ready to live in the community again, and this is an important first step,” he said.

The single-room housing also provides another management tool for corrections staff when dealing with inmates, Redmann said.

“It gives them an incentive to behave and earn” a room, he said.

(Reach Nowatzki at 701-255-5607 or by email at mnowatzki@forumcomm.com.)

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