No room at the prison

Minnesota State Roundup

Published March 1, 2003  | March 2003 issue

Minnesota prisons will soon feel a space pinch as the state's inmate population is rising beyond previous estimates. New projections indicate that they system may run out of beds in July. In fact, two new prisons could be filled by 2010; however, no new construction is planned.

In 2002, the state's prisons held 6,684 in an average month, by 2005 that number could reach 8,200, and by 2010 about 9,500. Even without new prison construction, that population increase will cost an additional $55 million. The state plans to rent beds from other states and add some new beds to existing prisons to meet the growing number of inmates, rather than offer an early release program.

Causes for the new projections are being attributed to the creation of several new felony-level crimes and a trend toward increased sentences for many crimes, as well as an overall increase in state population.

State prisons have already been involved in a three-year, $18 million cost-cutting effort that has resulted in reductions in correctional officers, supervisors, administrators, nurses and chemical dependency counselors.

When the $89 million prison opened in Rush City in 2000, it was planned to hold more than 950 inmates and not reach capacity until 2004; now it will be filled in the next five or six months. The state can't even look to the privately run prison in Appleton—that's filled with out-of-state inmates.

Kathy Cobb