MINNEAPOLIS, MINN. The ACLU of Minnesota and the Minneapolis NAACP are looking for individuals to join our new Smart Justice Fellowship.

The Smart Justice Fellowship aims to provide a cohort of 10 fellows with the training needed to become leaders among the 55,000-plus Minnesotans who regained their right to vote after the Restore the Vote bill was signed into law by Gov. Walz on March 3, 2023.

The goal of the fellowship is to recruit one fellow from each of Minnesota’s 10 judicial districts. This will allow the ACLU-MN and the Minneapolis NAACP to jump-start criminal justice reform organizing efforts outside the Twin Cities metro — where the highest per capita populations of formerly disenfranchised voters reside. It also will allow fellows, the ACLU-MN, and partners, including the Minneapolis NAACP, to build relationships with judicial officials in each district, hopefully leading to greater, more significant influence in sentencing patterns.

Ideally, fellows will be individuals affected by the criminal legal system. Fellows also can be individuals with a close relationship with a justice-impacted individual whose incarceration affected them personally. 

Smart Justice is an ACLU campaign that began in 2016. The goal is to reduce the country's incarcerated population by half and to challenge the racial discrimination that happens in the justice system. In 2019, the ACLU of Minnesota released a Minnesota-focused Smart Justice plan.

"Minnesota is no exception to the trend of mass incarceration," said ACLU-MN Organizer Paul Sullivan. "In some ways, Minnesota is particularly egregious, especially in its historical overreliance on state probation and supervision."

This is the second time the ACLU-MN has hosted a Smart Justice Fellowship. The pandemic and the murder of George Floyd halted completion of the first fellowship in 2020.

“There are over 55,000 folks who can vote now,” Sullivan said. “How do you get them to vote? One way is by appealing to them on Smart Justice issues because they've been directly impacted. We believe they’ll be more likely to come out and vote for these issues, rather than simply a person with an ‘R’ or ‘D’ next to their name.”

Outreach to these 55,000 newly re-enfranchised Minnesotans will require the help of more than just these 10 fellows. The ACLU-MN plans to recruit hundreds of volunteers to raise awareness about the law change.

“Justice-impacted activists have done so much of the heavy lifting to restore the vote,” Sullivan said. “Now it’s time for the rest of Minnesota to show up. Passing the law is one thing, but we all need to make sure everyone who now has the right to vote knows it and reclaims their power, and to ensure lawmakers pay attention to their unique concerns.”

The Minneapolis NAACP is hard at work promoting awareness about Restore the Vote because of the disproportional number of Black and Indigenous community members who have been disenfranchised as a result of their incarceration.  Participating in voting, we believe, can bring a sense of hope and honor to those who have been denied access to their fundamental right as a citizen of this country.  Voter disenfranchisement harkens back to genocidal practices, enslavement, and Jim Crow policies in this country. 

Individuals interested in participating in the Smart Justice Fellowship can learn more and apply at https://www.aclu-mn.org/en/jobs/smart-justice-fellowship