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When the legislature is overdrawn

Credit is a deceptive matter. With a credit card, you may have a limit of $5,000. So you charge a few things on your card. You only have to make a minimum payment, and that is all you pay. It is easy and it makes buying things almost painless. To start.

But engage in this type of spending for months or years and you may find that your credit card has reached its limit, and you owe far more than your original credit limit. And you can see that your credit statement is telling you it will take years, or decades, to pay off the balance.

This is something like the problem with the legislature in Minnesota and its behavior towards the criminal justice system. As soon as some issue is perceived as being  a significant crime problem, the legislature is moved to enact a new law and or enhance the punishment for existing crimes.

The prison population has increased significantly in the last 25 years and has more than doubled since 1991. There was no grand plan by the legislature to bring this about, but by creating more crimes and longer sentences, they set in motion a slow moving operation that has filled Minnesota's prisons to bursting.

Criminal matters from drugs and DWIs to sex abuse and domestic violence may seem discrete and targeted for specific offenders, but as the years go by, more people are arrested and those in prison are sentenced to longer periods of time.

Of course, many if not most of the legislators who are responsible for these laws have either retired or died. They no longer have to worry about how Minnesota can afford to house all of these prisoners.

It is a reminder that within the criminal justice system there is no free lunch, and every law with enhanced punishment is likely to cast a long shadow across the state's budget for a very long time.

Source: startribune.com, "Decades of new laws caused Minnesota's prison population spike," Andy Mannix, February 7, 2016

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