Part of the Department of Corrections mission is to reduce inmate recidivism.
The success and challenges of such oversight — at both the state and county levels — was the focus of Friday’s gathering of the Prison Population Task Force.
Co-chaired by Rep. Tony Cornish (R-Vernon Center) and Sen. Ron Latz (DFL-St. Louis Park), the informal group hopes to craft recommendations for the 2016 legislative session to deal with prison overcrowding.
As of July 1, 2015, the state housed 560 inmates more than capacity, a gap expected to increase to 1,200 inmates by 2022 if everything stays the same in terms of statutes and sentencing. To help with the current situation, the Department of Corrections now leases 500 beds at county jails.
Minnesota is a low-incarceration state, meaning some offenders who would serve time behind bars in many other states are instead supervised in the community. When sentenced to prison, offenders generally serve two-thirds of their punishment in a Minnesota prison with the remainder spent in the community.
“We’re always looking for an alternative to prison,” said Deputy Corrections Commissioner Ron Solheid.
However, community supervision doesn’t always change an offender’s behavior. Corrections Department officials say the number of release revocations has increased at a rate in line with the increase in the state’s prison population.
So what is being done to turn the tide?
Through a grant, the department has partaken in a Second Chance Act Demonstration Project that — albeit with a small sample size — has reduced the risk of release revocation by 28 percent. Supporters say this success shows the importance and need of community-based reentry services that may include employment assistance and finding stable housing.
Another department initiative has provided service providers and field agents with training and collaboration opportunities. Now in its second year, about 18 months remain of grant funding.
Josh Milow is president of the Minnesota Association of Community Corrections Act Counties. He’s also the director of Blue Earth County Corrections.
He feels that funding has fallen behind in the last 15 years, and that additional resources would mean more supervision through an expansion and/or creation of community alternatives
“We’re not able to focus on a lot of medium-risk offenders because there’s more focus on high-risk offenders,” he said.
“More intervention equals less recidivism,” Latz said.
“It’s all about responding to need,” said Midge Christianson, director of Region 6W Community Corrections in western Minnesota.
Not all task force members are on board for providing additional dollars.
Cornish said he’d like to see more evidence of success before added money is given.
The task force is next scheduled to meet at 9 a.m. Jan. 15, 2016.