With less than six months to go before the 2016 legislative session, Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, announced a new task force this week designed to come up with solutions to Minnesota’s prison overpopulation problem.
As MinnPost reported in June, harsher penalties for DWIs, drugs and other offenses caused the state’s prison population to spike in recent years. Since 2000, the rate of incarceration — the number of inmates per 100,000 residents — went up 42 percent. During that same time period, the crime rate in Minnesota dropped significantly. According to a study from the Brennan Center for Justice, the rise in imprisonment didn’t have any significant impact on the crime decline.
Minnesota has one of the smallest prisoner counts in the country, and the growth appears to have slowed in the past few years. Still, the Department of Corrections doesn’t have enough space in its facilities to house the current population, and right now it’s using jails to manage an estimated 500-prisoner overflow.
In response, the DOC is asking the Legislature for new funding to expand its Rush City facility, and the price tag is rising. In June, a department administrator told MinnPost that the DOC would request $85 million. That figure has now gone up to $141 million.
“It is imperative that the discussion on the complex and weighty issue of our prison population begin now,” Latz, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement.
The taskforce will hold its first meeting this Friday at 9 a.m. in room 10 of the State Office Building. Members include lawmakers, DOC officials, public defenders and law enforcement.
Latz isn’t the only one looking for ways to manage the state’s prison population. Over in Swift County, officials are pushing to reopen the Prairie Correctional Facility, a private prison in Appleton, which closed in 2010 due to national prison cutbacks. Lobbyists for the proposal say Swift County wants the state to lease the prison and open it as a public facility, rather than keeping it private.