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History Of Corrections In Mn

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History of Corrections in Minnesota

In the mere forty years of which the publication "Corrections Retrospective 1959-1999, Minnesota Department of Corrections" is based, Minnesota's corrections history has vastly changed. During this time, one can observe an ever shifting correctional philosophy, how sentencing tendencies tend to reflect changes in attitude, how community members have been involved as corrections volunteers and also the effects of drug and alcohol abuse and addiction on the system.

The earliest correctional philosophy can be dated back to the first Territorial Prison in Minnesota. According to Orville B. Pung, the administrators and observers during this time period believed "prisoners should be treated humanely and prison should enhance the inmate's work ethic." Also during this time, the belief that an environment which allowed for and encouraged "real reformation" would be beneficial to younger inmates as he/she evolved. This would explain why a night school was established and why prisoners were allowed to possess papers and books. The theory that prisoners are better served separately can be observed since very early in the development of correctional institutions in Minnesota. At first, female inmates were house in different locations from the male inmates at the same prison. Later, an entirely separate institution was dedicated to accommodating adult females at Bayport and then Shakopee. The same modifications can be observed with relation to juvenile offenders. First male and female juvenile offenders were incarcerated at the same general location but had separate living quarters. Following the lead of reform groups, a new girls' institution was opened at Sauk Centre. The Minnesota Department of Corrections has suffered from one major problem throughout history: overcrowding. While this makes operating institutions significantly more difficult, the correctional administration continued to strive for philosophies which would have a positive impact on its prisoners.

Dan Cain argues that sentencing tendencies tend to reflect "changes in our attitude, the degree to which we feel individually impacted by the crime, our politics, our level of tolerance an subsequently our sentencing policy." It is apparent that correctional policy and sentencing policy are significantly associated with one another. Sentencing policy is also driven by societal norms, values and the political process. The Community Corrections Act was passed in 1973 allowing property offenders to be penalized within the community instead of only within in a prison setting. This change allowed for the limited and expensive prison resources to be saved for the violent and threatening offenders. State sentencing guidelines were passed in 1978, along with mandatory minimum sentences for serious crimes, with the goals of trying to alleviate perceptions of inequality and to control liberal release practices. The proportional guidelines were extremely successful. The success can be measured by the shift in ratio of the prison population with regard to property and violent offenders occupying the space. This relationship between violent versus non-violent inmates proportionality in prison populations is at great risk today due to the re-codification of controlled substance laws as an answer to the "crack" menace introduced in the mid-1980s. This drug phenomena will be explored in more detail shortly. Based on these few of many examples, it is obvious that Mr. Cain was correct in stating that the history of sentencing practices and procedures in Minnesota reflects the changes in attitude of the State's correctional administration, legislators and community members.

Community members have been involved as corrections volunteers since the beginning of the Minnesota Department of Corrections over forty years ago. The majority of the volunteers that reach out to offenders are associated with a religious community. Through programs at prisons, religious groups assist inmates with the topics



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