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It probation crowding Minnesota's prisons?


Recidivism is a concern for the criminal justice system. If deterrence is part of the purpose of the system, then recycling people on a regular basis suggests a failure of that system. In Minnesota, and the U.S. generally, it is difficult to isolate any single cause of why recidivism rates are so high, but it has led to overcrowded prisons.


One element of crowded prisons could be probation. While probation is ideally designed to allow individuals to return to society and help their reintegration with the world outside of prison, it often has a negative effect. Because during probation, any infraction that violates the terms of the parole can be enough to immediately send someone back to prison.


Many of these technical parole violations do not involve issues of public safety. They may be as minor as missing a call to a probation officer, but they can result in the revocation of parole. The feedback-loop of more prison time makes reintegration more difficult.

While changing the length and severity of sentences, removing mandatory minimums and allowing judges to review the facts of each case, may be the optimal solution, something as simple as changing the penalty for a parole violations could help reduce the number of prison beds needed.

This is far less expensive than building new prisons, and it can help prevent those prisons from providing law enforcement with a perverse incentive to attempt to fill them to capacity. One of the disturbing elements of private prisons is that they create a financial incentive to increase incarceration rates.

Minnesota should look to more cost effective solutions by reducing the number of individuals who need to be incarcerated. The state can help those who will be released to remain out of the Department of Corrections housing by providing adequate training and assistance to reestablish their lives outside of the criminal justice system.


Source:, "Long Probation Part Of MN Prison Population Problem, Says NAACP," Bill Sorem, Michael McIntee, October 25, 2015

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Joseph S. Friedberg Chartered

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