The number of adult prisoners incarcerated by the Minnesota Department of Corrections has grown by 62 percent since 2000. From January 2009 to January 2010, there was a 400-prisoner jump — even as the nation saw the first year-to-year drop in the number of state prisoners since 1972 for the same period.
The latest numbers from the Minnesota Department of Corrections are worth a close look — as are the trends.
As the prison population swells it is also aging. In 2000 there were just 348 state prisoners over the age of 50. Today that number has just about tripled to 1,024. The number of prisoners serving life sentences has nearly doubled in that same period — from 298 in 2000 to 554 today.
According to an AP article published in August of this year:
The federal Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that the number of men and women in state and federal prisons age 55 and older grew 76 percent between 1999 and 2008, the latest year available, from 43,300 to 76,400. The growth of the entire prison population grew only 18 percent in that period. David Fathi of the ACLU National Prison Project in Washington, D.C., said that one in 11 prisoners is serving a life sentence.
The American Civil Liberties Union estimates that elderly prisoners — the fastest growing segment of the prison population, largely because of tough sentencing laws — are three times more expensive to incarcerate than younger inmates. The ACLU estimates that it costs about $72,000 to house an elderly inmate for a year, compared with $24,000 for a younger prisoner.
More striking than all of this is the racial disproportionality in our prisons. In criminal justice circles, Minnesota has something of a reputation in this area. Here’s University of Minnesota law professor Richard Frase writing in the latest edition of Crime and Justice: A Review of Research:
Studies of state prison populations in the 1980s and early 1990s found that Minnesota’s black per capita incarceration rates were about 20 times higher than white rates — the highest ratio reported for any state. Minnesota has done better in more recent studies, but its ratio of black to white incarceration rates is still in the top quartile.
How are we doing today? Black Minnesotans make up 4.7 percent of the state’s population and 36 percent of its prison population. By contrast, white Minnesotans make up 88.6 percent of the total population and just 53.4 percent of the prison population.
So what’s landing all of these Minnesotan’s in prison? Drugs mostly. Criminal sexual assault is the next most common offense, followed closely by homicide.
That pattern has held for most of the last decade. The exception is a period from 2000 to 2002 when criminal sexual conduct topped the list and homicide briefly moved up to second place.
Have a look at the spreadsheet I created from Minnesota Department of Corrections data. What jumps out at you? Are you surprised by anything I’ve written about here?