Warden questions timing of audit criticizing her prison
BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — The warden of the state women’s prison in southwestern North Dakota is questioning an audit critical of her lockup that she believes was stacked to favor Gov. Doug Burgum’s plan to shutter the facility and move the inmates to Bismarck.
Dakota Women’s Correctional and Rehabilitation Center Warden Rachelle Juntunen called the timing and results of the audit done last month at the New England facility “suspicious.”
The audit done by the North Dakota Corrections Department and obtained by The Associated Press found a number of “deficiencies” that ranged from inadequate record-keeping and programs to building maintenance.
Burgum spokesman Mike Nowatzki said the governor did not call for the audit.
“It makes it sound like our facility is falling down and we are horrible,” Juntunen said. “Honestly, the staff is really mad and we’re going to fight this thing until the end.”
That may not be necessary. The idea was defeated in the House last week and turned into a study. Nowatzki says the governor, along with the corrections agency, will continue to lobby the Senate to revive the plan, though leaders in that chamber say they aren’t interested.
“I don’t think things are as gloom-and-doom at the prison as some have made it out to be,” said Republican Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, who does not support the governor’s proposal. Wardner’s district lies just outside the prison boundaries and he said some workers live in his district.
Joan Heckaman, the Senate minority leader, said Burgum’s plan took almost everyone by surprise. She said the governor’s plan lacks detail and neither she nor her caucus supports it.
“This popped up at the last minute,” Heckaman said. “Where is the data? Where is the need? We want to see the data. We want to see the need.”
Burgum, during his budget address in November, unveiled a proposal to relocate the prison to the Missouri River Correctional Center south of Bismarck. He said the plan, which has been pushed by the Corrections Department, would be more efficient and would save the state “at least” $3.5 million annually in time.
Juntunen said she was never consulted about the plan before the first-term Republican governor unveiled it prior to the start of the legislative session.
“It completely sideswiped us,” she said.
The lockup in the former Roman Catholic boarding school in the town of about 600 was established in 2003. It has 56 fulltime employees and about 120 inmates. Its two-year budget is more than $10 million.
Juntunen said one day after she testified against the plan at the Capitol, eight Corrections Department officials showed up at the prison to perform the audit.
She said a previous audit had been done last summer and another one in 2016 that found no problems. Monthly visits by corrections officials also did not turn up any problems, she said, nor did four visits in the past year by Corrections Director Leann Bertsch.
“We’ve never been advised of these issues” in the recent audit, Juntunen said. “All of them are easily fixable.”
Bertsch referred questions to Cathy Schweitzer, the agency’s director of women’s services. Schweitzer said she did not recall an audit done last year. She said the 2016 audit did not find any problems but it used different methodology than was done last month.
Schweitzer said the January audit was done “to get an idea of things to be corrected. We needed a good report to take a look at all the areas to move forward.”
The audit also was released to some lawmakers before prison officials in New England got a look at it, Juntunen said.