MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Minnesota’s top corrections experts are looking at ways to ease the strain on the state’s overcrowded prisons.

Minnesota has one of the fastest-growing prison populations in the country, despite a drop in the crime rate.

That is why the state’s top experts are looking at ways to slow it down, or build more jails.

“A rising prison population does not have to be inevitable,” said Sen. Ron Latz, DFL chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said. “This may not seem significant, but at a time when crime rates are low and the rest of the nation is more likely to look at alternatives to imprisonment, I believe that Minnesota can do better.”

Minnesota has already reached its prison space capacity. The State Department of Corrections reports 10,119 Minnesotans are incarcerated, exceeding the 9,559 prison beds available.

The state is renting 560 prison beds in county jails for the overflow prisoners to ease the strain. And some lawmakers say adding more prisons is part of the answer.

“Especially when we read the papers and we find some of these people with 27 DWIs still driving,” Rep. Tony Cornish, GOP Chair of the Minnesota House Public Safety Committee, said. “We find people that are raping and murdering that have been convicted and served three, short sentences in a row before we finally got a clue and locked them up.”

The Dayton administration is considering a $141-million addition to the prison at Rush City. But Swift County says it has a better idea — a private prison the state can lease.

It is a privately-built, 1,600-bed prison in Appleton that has been out of use since 2010. Swift County officials want the state to rent it and run it, creating jobs and space.

“We think that’s a really good opportunity for the state of Minnesota through the Department of Corrections to bring and house all the inmates and provide the programming that lowers recidivism and gets these individuals back into the community,” Swift County Administrator Mike Pogge-Weaver said.

Minnesota still has one of the lowest incarceration rates in the country despite the growing prison population.

Lawmakers are expecting to debate prison space when the legislature meets next March.

Pat Kessler