Minnesota is running out of places to put its prisoners. With inmate ranks at the state's 10 prisons swollen beyond capacity, the Department of Corrections planned to seek $141 million this year to add space for 500 more prisoners at its Rush City facility. The Minneapolis Star Tribune says Gov. Mark Dayton left the project out of his bonding proposal, effectively killing it, at least for now, and instead offered a more modest $8.5 million plan that would house less than a quarter of the roughly 560 inmate overflow. Dayton wants to work with the department and lawmakers this year on a long-term strategy to reduce the state's prison population, calling major building projects “a solution of the last resort.”
The dramatic difference in proposals underscores the difficulty of solving a complicated and politically fraught problem decades in the making. Minnesota has one of the smallest prison population rates in the the U.S., but while some of the nation's largest corrections systems, such as New York and California, have been reducing population rates, Minnesota's has spiked. Since 2000, the incarceration rate has jumped nearly 50 percent, one of the nation’s most rapid growth rates in the country. In the process, Minnesota's prisons have simply run out of room. Lawmakers launched a task force last summer designed to address the population crisis, but with six weeks to go before the legislative session, no clear solution has emerged. In the meantime, the state has been leaning on county jails to warehouse the inmate overflow, a short-term fix that state officials acknowledge is less than ideal, given jails don't offer the same mental health, drug abuse and education programs as prison.