WHAT WE'RE DOING
Midmorning - Faced with rising costs and burgeoning prison populations, states and some at the federal level are revisiting the get tough on crime statutes of the past. I'll be live-blogging the hour. There's a related story here about efforts to cut prison sentences n Minnesota.
At 10, a renowned theoretical physicist ponders the possibility of force fields, time travel, and other themes of science fiction.
Talk of the Nation - The Mexican drug war in the first hour, and then a fat softball-pitch to Public Radio listeners in the second hour: Strunk and White's Elements of Style. One linguist calls it "50 Years of Stupid Grammar." Perhaps we should have a protest at the Capitol, then, when we end all of our sentences with prepositions.
Midday - Gwen Ifill is speaking at the Westminster Town Hall forum at noon. You can hear it live on Midday. If you can't wait, listen to Kerri Miller's interview with her in February or her January event at the Kennedy Library in Boston, which was broadcast on Midday.(1 Comments)
Faced with rising costs and overcrowded prisons, states and some at the federal level are revisiting get-tough-on crime statutes. In Minnesota, a bill has been filed to cut prison sentences to save money.
Is this the right idea? I'm live-blogging the Midmorning broadcast on the subject. Kerri Miller's guests are Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman and Brian Walsh, senior legal research fellow at the Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at the Heritage Foundation. He's the author of a January paper on criminal law reform.
He was featured in an NPR story on the subject last month.
So let's have an online conversation on the subject. Use the comments section below.
9:09 a.m. - Perusing various newspapers, I see Arizona is kicking this around. One of the proposed cuts is to treatment programs for sex offenders. That sounds a little like the strategy -- apparently -- in these parts not to fill potholes. Is that really the way to approach this?
9:11 a.m. - Mike Freeman says Minnesota spends the second-lowest amount on the penal system in the country. He also says the incarceration rate is second-lowest.
9:11 a.m. - The big increase in the prison system is drug offenders. Walsh focuses on the federal level and says "a number of people" are incarcerated for relatively small amounts of drugs. But, he says, "the right people are in prison for the right reasons."
9:13 a.m. - Here's an interesting chart on prison population. Our crime rate is slightly below the national average, but the incarceration rate and taxpayer cost is much lower than the national rate.
9:14 a.m. - Attorney Freeman says there is a relationship between tougher sentencing and a reduction in crime. He says felony DWIs are down. Mr. Walsh says that's the way things should be done -- data driven. Increasing sentences just because "you're mad" doesn't make any sense, he says.
9:17 a.m. -Freeman says the federal system's mandatory drug minimum sentence is "outrageous," and that "Congress has gone overboard." But, he says, that's not the way we do things in Minnesota. Walsh agrees. He says "it sounds very good to the public" to have tougher sentencing. But he suggests penal philosophy is more often guided by politics. Congress won't vote against a tougher sentencing bill because they don't want to be "soft on crime." Unfortunately, he didn't provide a breakdown of who is being "overpunished."
9:19 a.m. - Atty. Freeman, of course, comes from a world of politics, having served in the Minnesota Senate. He says he was "pushed by the other party" when sentencing and crime bills came up. "But that era ran out in the '90s," he said. He applauds programs for substance abusers as a way to keep people with low-level drug problems out of prison.
Tangent time: Here's a 2005 Department of Corrections report on the Minnesota prison population.
9:22 a.m. - A caller says that attitudes toward locking up people with drug problems changed when the meth epidemic started. It's a white-person drug. When crack cocaine -- an African American drug in perception -- was the main problem, there were more efforts to send people with drug problems off to prison.
9:25 a.m. - Walsh says most conservatives believe the 100:1 ratio (racial breakdown on drug prosecutions) was out of line. "Those who were calling for very stiff penalties on crack in the '80s were those who were more closely associated with the left," he said. "The Black Caucus was very involved in that."
9:27 a.m. - Caller asks about Obama emphasis on treatment rather than prison. Who should administer it? "We need treatment in home communities for diversion," Freeman said. He says his office will charge someone with crack, but they'll encourage them to attend programs before going to prison." He says even for the sellers who go to prison, there are good programs in prison for cleaning up. "The problem is the Legislature hasn't appropriated enough money," he said.
"That's really unwise," he said of the discussion at the Legislature for more cuts.
9:30 a.m. - Walsh says the focus needs to be on what works. He highlights the work of a Missouri prison official. Background on that is in this article.
9:38 a.m. - Just talking among ourselves here during the news break, Atty. Freeman just said that one of the most rapidly growing prosecution is domestic strangulation, which is a felony. Here's a 2007 report on the impact of Minnesota's domestic strangulation law.
9:40 a.m. - I'm listening to Atty. Freeman and Kerri talk about mandatory sentences for sex offenders who fail to register. Does mandatory minimum sentencing work? This article in TIME says the practice has stalled prison and criminal justice system reform.
9:48 a.m. - There's a discussion here about the Appleton prison, which is a privately run prison. If I recall correctly, however, Appleton had a hard time getting prisoners. At one point it had to get prisoners from Puerto Rico.
9:51 a.m. - I just read several of the comments below on the air, including the need to concentrate on what happens when people get out of prison. Atty. Freeman says we ought to grant Certificates of Good Conduct to people who have been out and have not committed another offense. He says private employers shy away from people with a criminal past, even if people are simply charged and never convicted.
9:54 a.m. - One thing we haven't talked about is the actual war that's taking place in Mexico. That's spilling over to the U.S. What will be the effect here? I just read an AP story that's being distributed for the weekend papers:
But the cartels have also brought the fight to us. In 230 U.S. cities, the organizations maintain distribution hubs or supply drugs to local distributors, the federal government reports. Places like Miami and other longtime transportation points along the Southwest border. But also Twin Falls, Idaho. Billings, Mont. Wichita, Kan. St. Louis. Milwaukee.
9:58 a.m. - Freeman, by the way, says he's done with statewide politics. He's run for governor twice.(29 Comments)
After a winter of sports as abysmal as the one Minnesotans have just suffered, it's not surprising that the heads-will-roll season is underway.
Today, the Minnesota Wild announced that the contract of General Manager Doug Risebrough will not be renewed. In other words: He's been fired.
Risebrough follows Jacques Lemaire out the door.
Last night, the Minnesota Timberwolves completed their season, so speculation is mounting that coach Kevin McHale will be the next onetime local hero to depart the scene.
The Norm Coleman - Al Franken recount story is a hit -- sort of -- in Europe.
On Wednesday, MPR's Mark Zdechlik was on the BBC's Up All Night. Once you get past the mangling of Mark's name, it's even more interesting to hear the questions. The host apparently thought the race between the two was over. But when you hear Mark explain the process, one wonders how anyone overseas can wonder what's wrong with Minnesota.
"Why didn't anyone weigh into this long before?" the commentator asked, referring to the Supreme Court ruling in the Gore-Bush clash in 2000 49 days after the election. "There is no sense of a clock running here at all," he said incredulously.
"We urge more patience on you," he said. Listen
Meanwhile, All Things Considered host Tom Crann was on the radio in Dublin. The host on RTE Radio 1wondered why a Democrat in "one of the bluest states in the union" couldn't easily win an election in which Barack Obama swept to victory.
Told by Crann that Coleman was appealing this week's decision, the host intoned, "Oh, good lord." Listen
Why does Europe care? Is it a fascination with the democratic process in the colonies? Or the fact it involves a former comedian?
Today marked the biggest real estate bankruptcy filing ever in the United States when General Growth Properties filed Chapter 11. The mall developer is best known, perhaps, for owning Quincy Market (note: some news organizations say the developer owns Faneuil Hall in Boston. Not true. They own the tourist trap next to it.) and South Street Seaport in New York.
There is a local angle here, too. The developer owns Eden Prairie Center. It also owns the Ridgedale Mall as well as the River Hills Mall in Mankato, the Apache Mall in Rochester, and Knollwood Mall in St. Louis Park.
The Minnesota Historical Society is announcing huge proposed budget cuts. According to a news release, more than 90 people would lose their jobs, fewer books would be published and three sites would close.
You know my penchant for aviation, so I'll weep silently for the the Charles A. Lindbergh Historic Site in Little Falls. It, along with Historic Forestville in Preston, and North West Company Fur Post in Pine City would be closed to the public.
Lindbergh, for the record, was good enough for Gov. Pawlenty to invoke in his 2008 State of the State address. "When Charles Lindbergh emerged from the plane, he said just what you might expect a Minnesotan to say, 'Well ... I made it,'" It's easier to fly solo to Paris than it is to keep history alive in Minnesota, however.
Historic Fort Snelling would close for two days each week.
The Oliver H. Kelley Farm in Elk River, Mille Lacs Indian Museum and Trading Post in Onamia, Forest History Center in Grand Rapids, and Jeffers Petroglyphs in Comfrey would only be open weekends.
Maybe nobody cares about these particular cuts, the governor's spokesman suggests.
"If you weren't able to go to the Historical Society Library when you thought you' might be able to, some people might notice that. It doesn't seem like the Historical Society is trying to go overboard. I think their attempt here is one that presents a realistic approach as they seems like they look at the budget situation," said Brian McClung.
But wasn't the "Legacy Amendment" -- that's when you voted for a sales tax increase last fall -- supposed to be a boon to cultural programs in the state?