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Minnesota: Corrections should not be privatized.
Mar. 10, 2004
PRISON CONSTRUCTION: Faribault expansion is cost-effective solution

Minnesota's prisons are at capacity and recent changes to sentencing guidelines for several offenses will only exacerbate the crowding.

Several solutions to the rising prison population are kicking about at the Capitol:

Expand the prison at Faribault to house 1,060 additional inmates.

Increase the double-bunking of prisoners at existing facilities at Stillwater, St. Cloud and Oak Park Heights, which began in a small way this year.

Look to the private prison industry to build and operate new state prisons.

Of the possible remedies, the most cost-effective and best long-term solution for Minnesota is construction of the $75 million Faribault prison addition.

The Faribault prison is at the top of the governor's bonding proposal and merits passage by the House and Senate. The other potential solutions carry far too many liabilities and questions to merit serious consideration.

Double-bunking of prisoners in facilities that were not intended to handle such arrangements the cells at the three prisons are just 6 by 10 feet is potentially dangerous to prisoners and corrections officers.

And private prisons have had their ups and downs in other states. While we applaud Minnesota's aggressive privatization of several functions at its prisons everything from food service to chemical dependency treatment we believe that essential public safety functions such as law enforcement and corrections ought to be performed by public employees, not farmed out to the lowest private bidder.

The need to build more prisons is a direct result of changes to sentencing guidelines made by state legislators. We have supported many, if not most, of those changes over the years, in the name of improving public safety. But we must recognize, as a state, that those sentencing changes have consequences and those consequences have costs. If we want to keep certain offenders locked away from society for longer periods of time, then we must pay to house them.

Since 1990, Minnesota's prison population has more than doubled, to 7,500 inmates. Corrections officials expect that number to grow to 10,000 by 2010. Yet the state remains one of the most frugal in terms of overall corrections spending, ranking 49th among the 50 states. Minnesota is a national model for prison management, community corrections and intensive after-care programs. While it spends less than all but one other state on prisons, its recidivism rate of 24 percent is half the national average (based on released prisoners who commit new felonies within three years).

Construction of the Faribault prison would continue the state's reputation for frugality. The expansion is designed to double-bunk inmates. It would eliminate the need to make $29 million in renovations and maintenance at the existing facility. It would double the prison's capacity yet require just a 40 percent increase in staff. And it would lower the cost of housing each prisoner, a $20 million annual savings based on the current prison population.

The Faribault plan just makes sense.

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