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Cass County Jail follows national trend of high female incarceration rates

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Fargo, ND (WDAY/WDAZ TV) - The North Dakota Department of Corrections sent out a notice to the state's largest county jail this week. In it, the DOC let the Cass County Jail know it could no longer receive sentenced female inmates at its facility in New England, North Dakota. The reason? It was filled to capacity.

It's the latest backlog in a national trend that has developed steadily over decades. WDAY/WDAZ's Drew Trafton went behind locked doors at the Cass County Jail to frame the problem, and talk to those searching for a solution.

In 2014, bed space at the Cass County Jail was a precious resource. The jail population met or exceeded capacity roughly half the time. Currently, 278 inmates, on average, call the jail home each day. And one group you may not think about is contributing to the number much faster than others.

Capt. Andy Frobig/Cass County Jail, "Female incarceration rates are trending much faster than the males."

Cass County Jail Captain Andy Frobig says it is part of a national trend. According to the U.S. Justice Bureau, the female incarceration rate has risen by 646 percent in last four decades in the U.S.

The Cass County Jail is currently housing federal, state and local inmates, as well as inmates from McKenzie County,  which is also feeling the space crunch.

Frobig, "Our female counts are traditionally in the 15 to 30 range. And almost all year long we've been 50 to 60 girls."

At the most,  the jail is equipped to house 64 female inmates, but that assumes every prisoner classifies proportionaly to minimum, medium and maximum security. On the day we shot this footage, there were 53 women in the jail facing more than 120 different felony or misdemeanor charges. The vast majority of which-- were for non-violent crimes.

Frobig, "A lot of the female crimes are either drug and alcohol related or they're typically theft and things like writing checks on closed accounts or counterfeiting checks."

And Frobig,  as well as the Fargo Police Department says most of the violent crimes, can be attributed to drug use.

One notorious example being a string of armed robberies late last year in the F-M Metro.

Cheif David Todd/Fargo Police, "That is unusual for us to have females doing armed robberies."

Police say Stepahnie Padilla carried out those crimes  to fuel a drug addiction. She's just one of 28 inmates in the jail facing charges for multiple crimes.

And those instances of multiple crimes matter when you consider the following: Raw numbers of female inmates at the Cass County jail appear to be falling.

A breakdown of the number of bookings the last three years through early May, but the duration of their stay at the jail is on the rise.

A look at the average count of female inmates for that same time period in 2014 and 2015.

So, what's the solution? The North Dakota State Legislature adjourned without making any major changes to ease overcrowding.

But there is some hope. Capt. Frobig is currently working on a feasibility study focused on GPS units used for home arrest. Frobig says it may free up considerable bed space if he could put inmates currently on work release during the day on house arrest.

And the cost may be negligible. Frobig says the units cost around $4 dollars a day, the same as the cost of feeding an inmate.

Any such program would have to be approved through local government and the court system before being put in to action.

Drew Trafton

I joined the WDAY 6 news team in September of 2013 as a weekend anchor and reporter. I am currently the Assistant News Director and 5p.m. anchor. Previous to arriving in the F-M area, I worked as a broadcast journalist at the CBS affiliate (KTVQ) in Billings, Montana (sidenote: my hometown). I have worn many hats in my young broadcast career as an anchor, reporter, producer, sports producer and online producer. However, my favorite role to play is storyteller. Off the clock (are we ever really off the clock?) I enjoy taking in a sporting event on TV or in person. On the professional level, I root for Seattle teams. As a graduate of the University of Montana, I also enjoys FCS football (but forgive my allegiance). I also enjoy reading, watching movies, listening to good music and frolicking in the outdoors. I enjoy those things all the more when I can do them with my wife and our daughter. If you have a story idea for me, or just want to say hello, you can send me an email!

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