North Dakota parole, probation officers see surge in cases because of population, economy

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BISMARCK, North Dakota — North Dakota's robust economy, growing population and more money dedicated to cracking down on crime has led to a record number of people on parole and probation, putting additional strain on the officers who must monitor them, officials say.

"Absolutely, we're struggling," said Leslie "Barney" Tomanek, director of the state Department of Corrections' parole and probation division.

The number of people on parole or probation in North Dakota was 6,843 late last week, up more than 800 people from the same time one year ago and more than 2,050 since 2010, Tomanek said.

More state and federal money dedicated to fighting crime — especially in western North Dakota's oil- producing region — has helped fund troopers, police and sheriffs' departments and the court system. But parole and probation officers haven't kept pace.

Out-of-state-felons and people on parole and probation released from the North Dakota prison system are either coming to North Dakota or staying because of the state's strong economy and thousands of unfilled jobs, officials say.

"We anticipate the numbers will continue to go up, with what's going on in the courts and the additional law enforcement," Tomanek said.

There are 75 officers who supervise offenders in North Dakota, an average of about 90 cases per officer, Tomanek said. An ideal caseload would be about 65 offenders per officer, he said.

In Williston, in the heart of North Dakota's oil patch, the caseload is about 130-to-1, said Lloyd Haagenson, who heads the officer and supervises two other parole and probation officers.

"With more judges and more law enforcement, who gets that in the end? Corrections and us," said Haagenson, who has worked in law enforcement in the region for 25 years.

The North Dakota Legislature this year approved $2.9 million to fund an additional 16 parole and probation officers over the next two years. Those officers, however, won't be on the job for months.

"The oil-impacted areas will be getting a fairly good share of those positions," Tomanek said.

Officers perform record checks, verify employment, administer drug tests and visit offenders' homes, though the latter has lagged in recent years in Haagenson's district.

"We don't get a chance to go out into the field as much as we want to," Haagenson said. "There are tons of paperwork and court proceedings — we just don't have time."

The additional staffing is "much appreciated" and should help keep better tabs on offenders, Haagenson said.

The released offenders' crimes include everything from drug convictions to murder, officials said.

Haagenson said there has been a rise in the number of people on parole and probation convicted of violent crimes in recent years.

The number of women on probation or parole also is increasing, up 48 percent in five years to 1,815 at present, data show. The number of male offenders has increased about 41 percent since 2010.

Haagenson said the bulk of female offenders have drug and theft convictions.

"The thefts are often the result of drug addiction," Haagenson said.

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