Three Minnesota Bills Introduced to Ease Drug Crime Penalties, Solve Prison Overcrowding

By Kirk Anderson on February 3, 2016

Minnesota’s prisons are crowded and there have been at least three bills introduced in an effort to relieve Minnesota’s prison overcrowding. In fact, the state is running out of places to house its prisoners.

Due to inmate ranks swelling well beyond capacity within the 10 prisons in the state, The Department of Corrections has sought out over $140 million to make room for 500 more prisoners at one facility. However, the governor didn’t include this project in his bonding proposal, which essentially killed it at the moment. Instead, he offered a plan that would give $8.5 million to cover a quarter of the overflow.

Governor Dayton says he wants to work with lawmakers and the Department of Corrections to create a long-term strategy that would reduce the prison population in Minnesota. He called any major building projects a last resort.

Because the proposed bills are so different from one another, reaching a solution has become more complicated.

One of the proposed solutions is to release prisoners early. This would result in funding for early release programs so they could be expanded. The current early release program only has room for 260 inmates. Dayton’s plan would make room for 325. Prison officials and lawmakers say that the early release program has been successful up until this point and they are optimistic that it could be effective in cutting down the prison population in the long-term.

Legislators are also considering reopening a private prison that closed in 2010 in order to make more room. It is seen as a viable solution, as it is a state-of-the-art facility that isn’t being used. Some are against this plan.

One proposal that is seriously under consideration is reforming the drug laws, which have been major contributors to the prison population. The bills that have been introduced propose that the penalties for drug crimes be eased so that fewer go to prison or don’t serve lengthy terms.

In December 2015, the guidelines commission created a plan to reduce the recommended prison sentences for first-time drug offenders, even those convicted of major drug crimes. If legislators don’t take action toward this plan, then it will automatically go into effect August 1. However, it is possible that legislators will block the plan or create a proposal to change it in the next session. The goal of lawmakers is to try and avoid building new facilities because of the very high cost of doing so.