While the Minnesota Legislature considers life sentences without parole for violent rapists, some legislators also want to reduce prison terms for drug offenders — to save the money the state would spend if it locked them up,the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports.
A bill that would allow the parole board to cut some sentences in half could save the state $21.8 million a year, according to an official legislative estimate.
In recent years, Arizona, California, Kansas, Michigan, Utah and Washington state have reduced drug sentences and begun diverting low-level offenders from prison to treatment programs. But those are exceptions to a general rule, not violated in recent Minnesota history, that criminal penalties move in only one direction — up.
“It’s just so hard to roll them back,” said Allan Spear, a retired DFL state senator from Minneapolis who headed crime-policy committees for 18 years. “You would get a particularly heinous crime and everybody would respond to it.”
This session it’s the disappearance of Minnesota college student Dru Sjodin, allegedly at the hands of a recently released sex offender, that is fueling calls for life sentences for rapists. The measure, which has bipartisan sponsorship from 35 House members and breezed through three committees in recent days would have little fiscal impact for about eight years, but after that would run quickly into many millions of dollars a year.
Some of the same legislators, however, are backing the drug and parole initiatives, on grounds that they would save scarce resources for the “worst of the worst” offenders.