FARGO — One aim of criminal justice has been to reduce crime.
In North Dakota, where there are more than 30,000 new criminal cases filed every year, the problem hasn't gotten any easier.
A recently published article argues the solution is for the different branches of the criminal justice system to work together in a new coordinated way that makes sharing information easier.
The article, published May 13 in the Gavel, a North Dakota State bar magazine, argues that a coordinated system between the different agencies of criminal justice can help reduce crime and help offenders.
Co-written by Cass County District Judge Frank Racek, law clerk Sanatana Royer, and North Dakota State University associate professor Andrew Myer, the article states that criminal justice has often swayed back and forth between relying heavily on either incarceration or treatment programs.
The article argues treatment programs fail unless you can effectively keep offenders accountable to make better decisions. At the other end, incarceration fails due to “poor results experienced once prisoners are released” and the high cost of maintenance, the article says.
“All the agencies are disjointed,” Racek said. “We consider our problems solved if we just pass them on to a different agency, rather than focusing on the offender and getting them better so that there are fewer crimes and fewer victims.”
In North Dakota, Racek said, there are about six different information networks used by the courts, attorneys, the Department of Corrections and law enforcement departments, and those systems don’t share much of the information.
The system is locked onto what the preceding agency did with an offender, Racek said. “The policeman chooses to charge somebody ... the state’s attorney prosecutes them, the judge sentences them.”
Myer agreed with Racek, saying that while different agencies have their own objectives, a joined network can help focus and streamline the justice process, reduce repeat offending, and hold people accountable.
Both Myer and Racek said with advancements in technology and behavioral science there can be a more focused approach to treating offenders and deciding what course of action would best suit each offender’s specific needs.
With more data and information sharing, treatment programs that don’t work can be revoked and the resources can be put to better use, the authors say, adding that new methods can be introduced if needed.
Racek foresees a system where if he sentences somebody to probation, the offender should have an “exit ramp” out of that sentence if the probation officer concludes, using all the available information, that supervision is unnecessary and would do more harm than good to the offender.
He said with a new coordinated initiative, a police officer who apprehends somebody should have access to information about them.
If the officer notices the person has mental health issues and might not be on their medication, they should be able to get in touch with a mental health worker for help, instead taking them directly to the jail, Racek said.