MINNEAPOLIS – The American Civil Liberties Union has completed a comprehensive study on mass incarceration in the state — and what actions we can take to dramatically reduce it. Were Minnesota to follow the reforms outlined in the “Blueprint for Smart Justice Minnesota,” by 2025 the state could have 5,484 fewer people in prison, saving more than $41 million dollars that could be spent on schools, roads, and other services that build communities.
Minnesotans take great pride in having one of the lowest incarceration rates in the country, but our justice system is far from perfect. While the national state imprisonment rate dropped by 7 percent between 2000 and 2016, Minnesota’s imprisonment rate spiked by a staggering 51 percent. The study is a two-year partnership between the ACLU and the Urban Institute.
Violations of probation play a big role in Minnesota’s swollen prison population. In 2018, two in five prison admissions were returns from supervision, and the vast majority of that group – 88 percent – had only violated the conditions of probation or supervision. That means people had to go back to prison for something as minor as missing a meeting – not for a new offense.
That same year, one in five people in prison were there for drug offenses – the most common charge. Minnesota also keeps increasing the number of offenses considered felonies. Between 2001 and 2017, the number of people sent to prison for a felony jumped 69 percent, mostly due to drug offenses, which more than doubled over that period.
Unsurprisingly, Minnesota’s incarceration crisis has had a particularly severe impact on people of color. In 2017, Black Minnesotans accounted for only 5.6 percent of the state’s adult population but 34 percent of its prison population. The numbers are similarly troubling for Native Americans, who are imprisoned at nearly 14 times the rate of white adults.
But it doesn’t have to be this way: The ACLU has identified several actions Minnesota can take to reduce the high human and financial costs of mass incarceration. These recommendations include measures the ACLU of Minnesota is actively rallying for, including:
- Full legalization of marijuana, particularly given the known racial disparities in the policing of possession.
- Eliminating cash bail across offenses and limiting pretrial detention to the rare case where a person poses a serious, clear threat to others.
- Capping probation terms: Lawmakers should pass legislation to cap probation terms and expressly prohibit probation from being extended based on wealth-based conditions such as the ability to pay fines, fees and restitution.
- Reduce probation revocations: Minnesota lawmakers should pass legislation to prohibit incarceration as a response to any technical violation, regardless of the original offense.
For more information about what’s leading to Minnesota’s incarceration crisis, go to: https://50stateblueprint.aclu.org/states/minnesota/.