Overwhelmed by an influx of criminals, many of them mentally ill and on medication, Minnesota prisons at Stillwater and St. Cloud will begin double-bunking in 200 cells each, reports the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Housing two men in a cell built for one has long been considered a security risk.
Starting the practice at the 90-year-old Stillwater prison concerns the warden, the guards union, and prisoners, all of whom say compressing too many men into tight spaces poses inevitable dangers. “A lot of the guys I’ve spoken to, their biggest concern is the rise in violence,” said Walter Luna, editor of the inmates’ newspaper, the Prison Mirror.
Minnesota’s prison population is the third-fastest-growing in the nation. Double-bunking will proceed despite Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s announcement last week that he wants 701 new beds at Faribault prison by 2008. As of Friday, Minnesota’s prisons held about 7,500 inmates, with just 60 to 80 beds available.
The American Correctional Association has cautioned states against double-bunking, contending the practice could cost more than projected savings if prisoners riot. The association set an industry standard of 50 square feet of unencumbered space for two prisoners. Old cells at Stillwater and St. Cloud measure only 60 square feet overall.
Minnesota imprisons nearly three times as many people today as 20 years ago, from 55 sentenced inmates per 100,000 state residents in 1984 to 141 by the end of 2002. That rate is tied with Maine for the lowest in the nation, and is far below the national average of 476 per 100,000.