Minnesota prison term lengths on the rise as crime falls

Minnesota inmates are spending more time behind bars these days.
Minnesota inmates are spending more time behind bars these days.

-- Michael Biskey, south Mpls resident, could get 10 years for having a bunch of pot in his garage
-- Shakopee women's prison houses 79 murderers, is across street from elementary school, has no fence
-- Twin Cities 4th-most peaceful metro; Minnesota 4th-most peaceful state, study finds [GRAPHICS]

Minnesota's crime rate has fallen precipitously since 1990, but that's been accompanied by a troubling trend -- prison term lengths are increasing.

According to a new study by the Pew Center on the States, the average prison term length for all crimes committed in the state was 2.3 years in 2009 -- up 38 percent from the 1.7 year average length in 1990. That's the 11th-highest increase in the country over that timeframe.

The report estimates that increased prison terms cost taxpayers $93 million. But Grant Duwe, research director for the Minnesota Department of Corrections, disputes that figure, arguing in a KSTP report that Pew's calculations are based on an inflated per diem number.

From 1986 to 2008, Minnesota's crime index fell by nearly 30 percent. Yet, over roughly that period, inmates ended up serving nearly 40 percent longer prison terms. Of course, it could be argued that there's no correlation between those trends. Could prison term reduction be accompanied by decreasing crime rates? Possibly.

But during the KSTP interview, Duwe says he thinks "the increased use of prison has likely contributed to some extent to the decrease we've observed in the crime rate."

Assuming Duwe's right, is it worth it? Some, such as Sarah Walker, head of the Minnesota Second Chance Coalition, argue that relying on incarceration to reduce crime is an unsustainable approach.

According to KSTP, one out of every 26 Minnesotans is now on probation, parole, in prison, or in jail. That's the fourth-highest rate in the country.

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