Robina Institute of Criminal Law and Criminal Justice

Mitchell Submits Proposals to MN Prison Population Task Force

This week, Kelly Mitchell, Executive Director of the Robina Institute of Criminal Law and Criminal Justice offered proposals aimed at controlling the growth of Minnesota’s prison population. Mitchell, who offered these proposals as a member of the Legislature’s Prison Population Control Task Force, suggested: (1) implementing an earned-time program that would allow prisoners to earn a reduction in their sentences by up to 10% if they engage in rehabilitative programming and maintain good behavior in prison; (2) instituting a cap of five years on all felony probation sentences; and (3) mandating that probation offices and the Department of Corrections (DOC) report on why probationers and those on supervised release are being revoked to prison so we can better target our resources towards prevention. Mitchell also expressed support for a comprehensive package proposed by Senator Latz that included supporting recent amendments to the sentencing guidelines for reductions in drug sentences and increasing funding for treatment and reentry services.

The Prison Population Control Task Force is an informal group established by Senator Ron Latz and Representative Tony Cornish from the Minnesota Legislature to respond to concerns about prison overcrowding. At its first meeting, Minnesota Department of Corrections Commissioner Tom Roy explained that the state’s prison population currently exceeds capacity. The DOC is leasing about 500 beds in county jails, and the DOC projects that the population will exceed capacity by over 1000 inmates within 7 years.

The task force has met monthly since September 2015. It has heard multiple presentations on factors affecting the state’s prison population including the impact of drug sentencing policy and news laws that enhance penalties for repeat offenders, efforts to reduce recidivism by probationers and those on supervised release, and the effectiveness of current programming offered to prisoners while they are incarcerated. This week, the task force considered suggestions for change that could potentially be taken up during the 2016 legislative session. Proposals were offered by Senator Latz, Senator Newman, the Minnesota Board of Public Defense, the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women, the Minnesota Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and the Minnesota Association of Community Corrections Act Counties. Because the task force was informally established, members did not attempt to reach final agreement on which proposals should be pursued this session. However, there was widespread consensus that funding for treatment and reentry services should be a high priority.