Should Drug Sentences be Reduced to Avoid Overcrowding?
A Minnesota state commission has approved a motion to reduce the time drug offenders spend in prison.
This could mean that jail time for crimes like first degree drug possession could be cut nearly in half.
Members of the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission have agreed that the state’s current lower level drug sentences are too severe.
As a result, they have proposed to cut the time drug offenders spend in prison.
“There is not a threat to public safety, and they end up causing more damage than good keeping people in prison that don’t need to be there,” says Commissioner Mark Wernick, of the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines.
The motion will help reduce the state’s current overflowing prison population, and will also cut cost for tax payers.
Commissioner Wernick says studies on drug offenders have shown that longer sentences have made no difference in crime reduction.
“So if we can’t show that the longer sentences deter crime more than shorter sentences we might as well do the shorter sentences,” says Commissioner Wernick.
On a local level the Clay County Sheriff’s Office is already looking at solutions to elevate prison overcrowding.
“I mean we have rules here too, there are certain crimes that you might be able to be home monitored, we have some people that are doing jail time, but still get to go out to work every day,” says Clay County Sheriff Bill Bergquist.
Bergquist says one major reason for overcrowding is not having a proper place to house, and help, those with mental health issues, and drug addiction.
“But again, the drug things and if they were not a serious drug arrest, they’re just drug addicts. I mean is a jail the place for them? I don’t think so,” he says.
The drug offender sentence changes will not take effect until late August 2016.
The Minnesota Legislature has a chance to veto the changes next spring before they would take effect.