ST. PAUL — Criminal justice advocates, law practitioners and legislators are pushing for a number of criminal justice reforms during this year’s legislative session, including a bill that would allow prosecutors to review past sentences of Minnesotans currently serving time in prison.
Advocacy group Minnesota Second Chance Coalition on Tuesday, Feb. 23, held its 14th annual lobbying day (this year, virtually) to highlight its legislative agenda. A morning news conference focused on one particular bill backed by the group and authored by Rep. Kelly Moller, D-Shoreview, which would allow prosecutors to motion the court for lesser sentences if an inmate is deemed safe to the public and their sentence too long.
Supporters of that bill point to older inmates as an example of where such a policy could be appropriate. Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said he has “long felt that we should not have so many people, if anyone at all, over the age of 65 or 70 in our prisons, really.”
“Are they there for public safety? Not necessarily,” he said, “Have some of them reformed so that they can be out in society? Yes. ... Should they be considered to get out? I think the answer in some cases is yes.”
Along with Freeman, Ramsey County Attorney John Choi and Attorney General Keith Ellison spoke in support of the proposed legislation on Tuesday’s call. When asked by reporters, Freeman and Choi said they could not yet speak for their fellow county attorneys throughout Minnesota as to their support for the bill, but Choi said it will be discussed in next month’s County Attorneys Association meeting. He said the bill is consistent with legislation county attorneys have supported in the past.
Sentencing reconsideration would not be automatic, but instead initiated by the prosecutor and ultimately decided by the court. The bill could also be applied to long probationary periods. Ellison on Tuesday called the bill a tool for prosecutors, who could “like all tools, use them when they are appropriate.”
“You don't use a hammer on everything. You don't use a wrench on everything,” he said “You use it when it’s time to use it and there will be, in the life of any prosecutor, a time when a tool like this is the right tool to use.”
Overall, Ellison said the bill is “the right thing to do.”
“After three, four decades of harsher and harsher responses, it might well be time for us as administers of justice to say, ... ‘Yes, it’s about accountability, but it’s also about mercy,’” he concluded.
The Minnesota Second Chance Coalition also backs bills to reform sentencing for juveniles, re-enfranchise felons who have served their time in prison and more.