Amid an influx of methamphetamine cases, Minnesota’s prison population is growing fast. Officials say building cells will cost taxpayers more than $100 million over the next several years, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports.
Projections from the state corrections department show inmate population reaching nearly 10,000 by mid-2011, compared with 7,579 this year. In 1985, the state had only 2,244 felons behind bars.
Minnesota prisons annually release 4,000 felons whose sentences are finished. New projections show that nearly 300 more than that will come in the gates each year through 2011.
The state Sentencing Guidelines Commission says that a record 12,978 felons were sentenced last year, a 20 percent increase over 2001. The majority get local jail time, probation, and other community-based sanctions, a policy that has kept Minnesota’s incarceration rate and per-capita prison costs among the nation’s lowest.
In 1997, only 64 felons were sent to state prisons for crimes involving methamphetamine. There were 460 last year, and another 407 in the first 10 months of 2003. Another growth area is Minnesota’s new felony penalty for chronic drunken drivers. About 125 four-time-and-greater offenders have been sent to prison with sentences averaging more than four years since that law took effect in August 2002. Officials project the number to grow to 425 over the next three years.