Dealing with a $10 million budget cut, Minnesota Corrections Commissioner Joan Fabian made legislators an impassioned pitch about the perils of slicing any more funding to a prison system that houses 9,700 of the state’s most violent and dangerous offenders, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports. In the last six years it has had $85 million in operational cuts and reduced staff by over 300 positions. Double bunking to save money has proved problematic. Cuts in recreation time for prisoners has led to violence. Unlike other agencies, the prison system can’t have a waiting list because courts determine who gets sent to prison and it can’t reduce its hours.
“Every day you read about the predator and violent offenses that happen on the streets,” Fabian told a Senate committee. “When a prison sentence is imposed, it might be a change in what is happening in the streets, but they all come to prison and we deal with them 24 hours a day, seven days a week.” She presented video footage taken from prison security cameras, showing a guard head-butted unprovoked, another guard sprayed with hot water and honey and then assaulted, and inmate fights in cell block areas where responding guards are armed with nothing more than a chemical irritant, all for a starting salary of about $30,000 a year. With a budget of $472 million, Minnesota’s eight prisons rank 48th in the nation in costs per inmate, largely because it has adopted a policy of locking up only the most serious offenders.