MINNEAPOLIS - Attorney General Eric Holder is calling for major changes to the criminal justice system.
He wants to do away with mandatory minimum sentences -- especially for drug crimes. That's because almost half of federal prisoners are incarcerated for drugs.
Minnesota's prison population is already ahead of the curve. In fact, Minnesota has been practicing much of what Holder is proposing for some 30 years.
"When someone commits a crime and they're convicted, they're much less likely to go to prison here in Minnesota than they are elsewhere," said Dr. Grant Duwe with the Minnesota Department of Corrections.
The DOC says it recognizes prison is an expensive social resource that should be used sparingly but judiciously. So low-level drug offenders end up with jail time and probation.
"Because Minnesota has made a decision to reserve prison beds for only those most serious offenders, the state has the second lowest imprisonment rate which also translates into fewer costs," Duwe said.
The proof is in the numbers. There are just under 10,000 prisoners in Minnesota. That's second only to Maine for lowest imprisonment rate in the country.
The Minnesota Department of Corrections use our neighbors as an example. Wisconsin spends $1.2 billion each year to house inmates compared to just $457 million in Minnesota.
"This is a great opportunity when it comes to doing things better, when it comes to dealing with drug offenders," said state drug expert Carol Falkowski.
She says the Attorney General's push to end mandatory minimum sentencing is a good one.
While people need to be responsible for their crimes, prison alone isn't solving the problem, she says.
"This is a way to turn the tide on that and get us out of that business and get people more appropriate help at an earlier time," she said.
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