Incarceration Rates Down in Most States, Up in Minnesota

Incarceration Rates Down in Most States, Up in Minnesota Click to Enlarge

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 Minnesota laws create felony-level charges for sexual assault, multiple DWIs and illegal possession of firearms.

Co-author and law professor Richard Frase says it might be time to consider less punitive alternatives for those convictions.

"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.

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