Crowded prisons

Minnesota has a problem with overcrowding in its state prisons, the natural consequence of years of tougher penalties and longer sentences for a variety of crimes, especially drug related crimes. The state has been shunting some prisoners to county jails, which don’t really have the facilities and programs to handle long-term incarcerations.

A couple of solutions are being proposed in the legislature this year. They could provide a short-term and a long term approach to the problem.

First is a bill to reopen the Prairie Correctional Facility in Appleton, built by the city in 1990, taken over by Corrections Corporation of America, a for-profit prison operation. The prison was closed in 2010, but sits available.

Privately run prisons draw critics who claim they worsen racial disparities in the judicial system, but the bill calls for the state to lease the facility from CCA and operate it as a state facility with union guards. It would cost the state about $40 million a year for 1,000 beds. It’s expensive, but not as expensive as expanding current state-owned prisons or building a new one.

The Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission is also looking at revamping the state guidelines, reducing sentences for some drug offenders and saving bed spaces in years ahead.

Together, these plans make a lot of sense in reducing the overpopulation pressures in Minnesota’s prisons.

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