North Dakota Partners with Prison Reform Initiative to Champion Healing, Restoration, and Fairness

Restoring Promise partners with the North Dakota Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to create restorative housing units for young adults, with a special focus on Native American and Black youth

Vera Media Contact: Josh Gordon,; 217-801-2009

Editor’s Note: Interviews are available with ND DOCR Director Dave Krabbenhoft and Vera Institute of Justice senior program associate Clinique Chapman upon request. Photos of other Restoring Promise units are available on request.

Bismarck, ND – Today, Restoring Promise, an initiative of MILPA and the Vera Institute of Justice, launched the creation of housing units grounded in dignity for young adults in North Dakota’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (DOCR).

“North Dakota has demonstrated the drive and vision necessary to replace a punitive correctional culture with one that values accountability through healing, racial justice, and human dignity,” said Vera Institute of Justice senior program associate Clinique Chapman, who advises state leaders on prison reform.

“People who live in our facilities deserve to be treated with dignity and respect,” said Dave Krabbenhoft, DOCR Director. “We know incarcerated people who experience safety, healing, support, and connection to family and loved ones thrive when they return home.”

Restoring Promise transforms prison culture by designing spaces for young adults (ages 18-25) that focus on healing, fairness, and respect. Every Restoring Promise housing unit is designed and driven by incarcerated people and corrections staff, empowering them to create a supportive community. Young adults are coached by mentors (incarcerated people over the age of 25) who help the young person realize their potential. Through classes focused on life skills, financial literacy, restorative justice, and meaningful connection to family and loved ones, mentors help young people prepare for a successful return to their home communities.

“As a formerly incarcerated person, I know the people most impacted by the harmful effects of mass incarceration have solutions for our problems,” said John Pineda, deputy director of MILPA. “We’re excited to create a restorative culture in North Dakota’s prisons by challenging bias, eliminating systemic inequities, and following the expertise of people behind bars.”

Through the initiative, DOCR team members develop leadership and conflict resolution skills that lead to decreases in violence, increases in job satisfaction, and a more positive work environment. Restoring Promise will also provide DOCR assistance with data analysis, staff training, family and community engagement, and policy support to expand the department’s understanding of the criminal legal system’s history of racial injustice and guide them on a path toward a more equitable future.

In the Peace Garden state, Native and Black residents are four times more likely to be on parole, probation, or in prison than white residents. As North Dakota seeks to enhance public safety and increase fairness and transparency, state leaders believe a more restorative approach will better meet community needs.

“Public safety is our goal,” said Krabbenhoft. “With nine in 10 incarcerated people returning to our communities, providing personal growth and redemption opportunities improves their sense of safety and safety within prisons, leading to safer communities.”

“Over the years, DOCR leadership, healthcare professionals, and frontline officers have demonstrated an openness and enthusiasm for innovation to address issues of violence and harm in their system,” noted Dr. Brie Williams, director of Amend, a correctional culture change initiative at the University of California San Francisco. “Time and again, our program at Amend has witnessed ND DOCR’s commitment to realizing the goal of achieving improved health, dignity, and human rights in their facilities, and we have been honored to engage with their staff to support that commitment. Restoring Promise is the next important step towards accomplishing DOCR’s goals.”

Over the next few months, Restoring Promise, DOCR team members, and incarcerated people will design the new housing units. Restoring Promise will also conduct research in collaboration with incarcerated people in North Dakota to analyze the prison’s culture and feelings of safety for team members and incarcerated people. The research marks DOCR’s commitment to openness and will inform how staff are trained and how policies are implemented.

Today, Restoring Promise works in Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Massachusetts, North Dakota, and South Carolina to improve their prison systems. The program has had an impact on incarcerated people and staff alike. For example, a one-year evaluation for the CORE Unit in South Carolina’s Turbeville Correctional Institution in 2019 showed a staggering improvement in the quality of life for incarcerated people and staff on the unit. One hundred percent of staff at the CORE unit said they felt “safe working here,” and 90 percent agreed that “the CORE unit is a positive environment.” Additionally, 80 percent of young adults on the unit agreed that their “family feels welcomed,” and 100 percent noted that they are “getting the support needed to succeed.”

Several years ago, Vera organized a tour for senior U.S. corrections officials to learn how Western European countries prioritize dignity for incarcerated people. The tour inspired many corrections leaders to rethink how they do their jobs and became an encouraging moment in the growing movement to transform prisons. Afterward, Restoring Promise began implementing the proven and more humane approach nationwide, focusing on healing, restoration, and racial justice.

About Restoring Promise

Restoring Promise is an initiative led by MILPA and the Vera Institute of Justice to create housing units grounded in dignity for young adults in prison. Restoring Promise helps transform correctional culture through training, presentations, workshops, and healing circles—setting a new tone for the entire system. Restoring Promise is pushing for change—one prison system at a time. Today, the initiative works in Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Massachusetts, North Dakota, and South Carolina—with plans to expand to three more states by 2024.


MILPA is a California-based grassroots nonprofit founded and led by formerly incarcerated Native Americans who are fighting systemic racism in prison systems nationwide.

About the Vera Institute of Justice

The Vera Institute of Justice is powered by hundreds of advocates, researchers, and activists working to transform the criminal legal and immigration systems until they’re fair for all. Founded in 1961 to advocate for alternatives to money bail in New York City, Vera is now a national organization that partners with impacted communities and government leaders for change. We develop just, antiracist solutions so that money doesn’t determine freedom; fewer people are in jails, prisons, and immigration detention; and everyone is treated with dignity. Vera’s headquarters is in Brooklyn, New York, with offices in Washington, DC, New Orleans, and Los Angeles.