Criminals won’t get off easier due to crowded jails

by Jesse Weisbeck

University lawbreakers doing time in the county jail can expect to have more cellmates than usual, based on record-breaking inmate numbers from the past two months.
Hennepin County Jail detained a record 788 inmates in the 509-bed facility two weeks ago, forcing officials to rent space from other county jails to compensate for the overflow of offenders.
But University students shouldn’t expect to get off easier because of overpopulation.
University Police Sgt. Joe May said the county jail hits maximum capacity often. But he added that it doesn’t affect the University because several of their incidents are minor offenses — such as indecent exposure or public drunkenness.
These don’t require much incarceration, and as a result, such lawbreakers circulate quickly through the jail.
But prisoners are never detained at the University Police Department on Washington Avenue, said University Capt. Bruce Troupe. The station has one holding room — a white-walled chamber called the secure interview room.
“We’re not equipped,” Troupe said, adding that bonafide jails require strict construction guidelines to legally hold prisoners.
University Police Officer Erik Swanson partially attributed the record number of inmates in the county jail to a city-wide police program called CODEFOR. The program allows departments to network, allowing them to effectively allocate crime-fighting resources.
The early success of the program, which is about one month old, has resulted in more arrests, which in turn has influenced the number of inmates at the jail, Swanson said.
“They’re trying to sweep the people off the streets as fast as they can,” Swanson said. “The concept is good,” he added, “… but the problem is we don’t have enough space.”
As a result, offenders often end up waiting in long lines to get booked into a crowded jail.
While Police Spokeswoman Penny Parrish said CODEFOR isn’t the only reason for the record breaking number of inmates, she believes it is playing a role.
But this month’s record was a result of many factors, such as zero-tolerance policing programs, said Roseann Campagnoli, a Minneapolis police public information officer.
Regardless of how overcrowded the county jail might be, however, University Police officers are never held up when transporting offenders. They spend only brief moments dropping off lawbreakers before hitting the streets again.
But Swanson also identified other problems which can crop up when overpopulation strikes county jails: Officials are sometimes forced to release offenders early in order to make room for newcomers.
“Sometimes they start processing lower offenders faster,” Swanson said.
Hennepin County officials plan to begin construction on a new 270-bed jail next year in an attempt to deal with staggering overpopulation. However, the jail, which will replace the Augsburg Fortress Publishers building in downtown Minneapolis, will not be ready to hold inmates until 2001.
While populations in the jail have decreased in the past week, Minneapolis police officials said the jail is still overcrowded, a chronic problem for the department.
“The population has returned to a more normal level,” Campagnoli said.