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Rubén Rosario: In crime and punishing, Minnesota’s a leader

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Many folks prefer reading stock sheets, crime thrillers or, this month, devouring NCAA Final Four analysis and predictions to pick a winner. I have two words: Michigan State.

I prefer reading reports related to crime and punishment. Two caught my eye this week.

There’s the rate of investment. There’s the rate of inflation. Now, there’s another rate to perhaps better look at the nation’s prison population through another measurable data lens: rate of punishment.

For decades now, researchers have used prisoners — those serving at least a year or more in lockup — per 100,000 residents to rank a state’s incarceration rate. By that per-capita measure, Minnesota has for years recorded one of the lowest incarceration rates in the nation, thanks in part to a vast county corrections system where many offenders are handled through supervised release. Incarceration has been usually reserved for the most violent or serious crime offenders.

But the Gopher State is actually ranked the ninth most punitive state in at least the past three decades, according to a report this past week by the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Public Safety Performance Project. (http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/issue-briefs/2016/03/the-punishment-rate)

Come again? The nonprofit research think tank devised a new analytical tool — the rate of punishment — to compare incarceration not to population but to the crime rate of Part I offenses — criminal homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny theft, and motor vehicle theft. It weighted the offenses and assessed severity points. Its main conclusion? States overall have become 165 percent “more punitive” between 1983 and 2013, even though crime rates have declined sharply since 1991. Colorado ranked first with a 417 percent spike. Minnesota had a 257 percent punishment-rate hike for the same period, still nearly 100 percent higher than the national 165 percent average.

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