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Incarceration Rates Down in Most States, Up in Minnesota

Between 2008 and 2016, Minnesota's crime rate dropped 24 percent while the incarceration rate rose 1 percent. (Dave Nakayama/FlickR)
Between 2008 and 2016, Minnesota's crime rate dropped 24 percent while the incarceration rate rose 1 percent. (Dave Nakayama/FlickR)
January 25, 2018

ST. PAUL, Minn. – A new study from The Pew Charitable Trusts found that incarceration rates fell across the nation from their record high 10 years ago.

Crime rates also fell, but in Minnesota, while the crime rate has dropped, too, the incarceration rate has risen slightly.

Kelly Mitchell with the Robina Center for Criminal Law and Criminal Justice at the University of Minnesota is co-author of a forthcoming paper that asked why Minnesota's prison population keeps rising.

"We are exceeding the capacity of our prison space, housing probably about 500 inmates per year in jails because they don't have enough space at the prison to house everyone that's coming in," she states.

Between 2008 and 2016, the state's crime rate dropped 24 percent while the incarceration rate rose 1 percent.

Mitchell says Minnesota also has one of the nation's biggest problems in locking up a disproportionate number of people of color.

She says that's largely because of what she calls "an accumulation of criminal history."

She says the new studies suggest the need for reform in both sentencing and policing.

The Robina paper explained that recent Minnesota laws added felony-level penalties for failure to register as a sex offender, and for multiple DWIs.

Co-author and law professor Richard Frase says prison is an expensive alternative, with very limited crime-control benefits.

"A state that isn't lowering its prison populations at this point in history should be asking itself 'Why not?, he says. Are there people that other states have decided don't need to be in prison that we're still putting in prison?' "

Frase and Mitchell emphasize that despite the rise, Minnesota's incarceration rate is still low compared to other states. It's the trend, they say, that's troubling.

Laurie Stern, Public News Service - MN