Minnesota counties have spent tens of millions of dollars building jail cells no one needs, reports the Minneapolis Star Tribune. In the past five years, county boards have built modern jails that have added about 2,300 new beds to the state's total, with more opening in the coming months. But as crime has plummeted, with 18,000 fewer arrests than five years ago.
The result is a fevered competition to help the jails pay for themselves by renting out empty beds for other counties' inmates. One sheriff has even asked legislators to rewrite laws to allow him to make money from Wisconsin inmates. It looks as if there are thousands of empty beds – the equivalent of all the combined space in the state's 40 smallest jails. Some of the building amounted to an entrepreneurial gamble that is starting to look ill-timed. Everyone seems to blame someone else. “A number of legislative mandates relative to inspections of jails have forced counties into purchasing or building or upgrading jails,” said James Franklin of the Minnesota Sheriffs' Association. Shari Burt of the Minnesota Department of Corrections said that's not how it works. The state simply points out deficiencies. “We don't tell a facility, 'you have to build a new one.'”