ST. PAUL - Surging sex and methamphetamine convictions are changing the face of Minnesota prisons, resulting in a sharp climb of white inmates.
As of this January, white convicts comprised 58.5 percent of the prison population, which represents a dramatic increase. It's the highest percentage since 1989. Only four years earlier, the inmate population was 46.4 percent white.
In a state where seven of eight Minnesotans are white, the disproportionate number of racial minorities in prison has long been the subject of concern and controversy in Minnesota and around the country.
And the debate could get hotter with a new early release program for drug criminals that was championed by Republican legislators who live far from the inner cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul.
Some find irony in the latest shift in criminal justice policy.
"The surest way to get sentencing reform is to over-incarcerate white people," said Rep. Keith Ellison, DFL-Minneapolis, one of only two blacks in the Legislature (there are also three Asians and one Hispanic). "All of a sudden, folks want to talk about redemption."