I can't tell if Smart Politics has a statistical tin ear or is willfully deaf.
What kind of policies or changes in the population are responsible for Minnesota's prison population increasing by 50.79% — from 6,238 to 9,406 between 2000 and 2010? A helpful analysis from a public policy center named for Hubert Humphrey might tell us.
Smart Politics, which posts under the banner of the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, just does the math, notes the change and passes on rather pointless observations like this:
Looking at states in the Upper Midwest region, North Dakota experienced the ninth largest increase in the nation in state and federal prisoners since 2000, with its prison population rising at a rate of 34.9 percent to 1,452 total prisoners. South Dakota's rate of increase was ranked #14 in the nation (27.8 percent; 3,342 prisoners), while Wisconsin was ranked #33 (12.7 percent; 23,380 prisoners), and Iowa was ranked #38 (10.2 percent; 8,766 prisoners).
I've remarked often about how state rankings often overstate small differences and get interpreted idiotically. The role of analysts should be to look beyond their number crunching to offer some enlightenment.
The incarceration data is in the Smart Politics table, but a useful caveat is not in the post — a small increase affects a small number percentage-wise more than a large number. Minnesota's high ranking for the period selected means nothing without more context. Even after the increase, Minnesota has the 18th lowest absolute number of prisoners.
More pertinent here would be a comparison between Minnesota and other states with similarly sized populations.
On a prisoner-per-capita basis, Minnesota has perhaps the lowest rate in the nation. (I haven't calculated every state, but our rate is at least half the rate of similar-sized Wisconsin, Maryland, Colorado and Missouri, and of South Dakota to boot. We're also lower than North Dakota and West Virginia.)
Those lower incarceration rates mean we spend less on corrections and reflect the fact we do more to get people out of the criminal justice system so they can lead productive lives.
You'd think smart policy thinkers at University could dig that out for us.