SAINT PAUL – On Thursday, December 19, the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission (MSGC) is scheduled to hold a public hearing to discuss proposed changes to Minnesota’s probation guidelines, including the adoption of a five-year cap on terms with exemptions for the most serious of offenses. This follows commission action in November, proposed by Minnesota Corrections Commissioner Paul Schnell, to formally consider the proposal.
However, at its Thursday, December 12 meeting, the MSGC is set to consider reversing course by rescinding its prior action and postponing the public hearing.
Rep. Carlos Mariani (DFL – Saint Paul), chair of the House Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Finance and Policy Division, is calling on the Commission to gather public input, and move forward with the reforms.
“Minnesotans, especially those from communities of color and from counties who have relied on arbitrary, unreasonably-long probation terms, deserve to have their voices heard by the MSGC. A public hearing is the next logical step in this process of advancing community-centered reforms, and it would be irresponsible for the commission to unnecessarily delay this overdue action,” Rep. Mariani said.
Noting that the state lacks a uniform standard for probation sentencing, leading to vast racial and regional disparities across Minnesota's 87 counties, Mariani added, “The MSGC's positive step to address this issue conforms with their legislatively mandated autonomy to affect change, If the Commission chooses to delay hearing public input, they would harm the relationship with the public they’re charged with serving, and it would serve as a signal to communities of color that their voices will continue to be ignored.”
While Minnesota has a low incarceration rate at 47th in the nation, it ranks fifth in percentage of residents on community supervision. Minnesota’s over-reliance on probation ends up driving higher prison costs; one-fourth of those incarcerated at the correctional facility in Stillwater are there for short-term stays due to probation violations. High numbers of Minnesotans on probation also leads to higher caseloads for workers, meaning less attention is available for high-risk offenders.
During the 2019 legislative session, the House passed a five-year cap on probation terms (except for the most serious offenses) along with a measure calling on the MSGC to establish probation guidelines in its Public Safety budget, but the Senate refused to consider the proposals and so the legislation failed.
Nevertheless, results of a Justice Action Network survey released in February show broad public support for reforms to Minnesota’s probation system. Local elected officials, public safety experts, and ideologically diverse organizations such as the NAACP, ACLU, ALEC, and Americans for Prosperity all support probation reform as well.
Minnesotans can share their comments either in person at the December 19 public hearing (1:30 p.m.; Room 1100, Minnesota Senate Building, 95 University Avenue W, Saint Paul) or submit them in writing to email@example.com. The Commission is currently scheduled to formally adopt or reject the reforms on January 9.