Red Lake Nation News - Babaamaajimowinan (Telling of news in different places)

Community Demands End to Crimeless Re-Incarceration, Unite Families for Holidays


November 16, 2018

Minneapolis MN. Today at 1:30pm, loved ones, ex-prisoners, and supporters of those returned to prison on crimeless violations of supervised or conditional release (“parole”) are speaking out. Community members are asking the Hennepin County Board to stop sending hundreds of people to prison without committing new crimes, and to request that the DOC reunite their families for the holidays.

“The agents have the power to do whatever they want, when they want. They can and do send hundreds of people back for minor, crimeless, technical violations of parole each year” says Stefanie B, member of the Decarcerate MN Coalition, a grassroots coalition seeking justice on this issue and to shrink Minnesota’s prison population.

Common “technical violations” include failure to find housing quickly enough, being late for curfew, missing an appointment, testing positive for alcohol or marijuana, and more.

Based on conversations with Hennepin County officials and Department of Corrections (DOC) data an estimated 450 county residents are sent to prison is this way each year, and nearly 3,000 statewide. And County officials acknowledge that there is a racial disparity here, reporting that Native and Black individuals are respectively three times and twice as likely then white individuals to be sent to prison on a technical violation.

According to the Vera Institute it costs Minnesota taxpayers $41,366 per person per year in prison, so not only is this practice harmful, and racist, it’s expensive. It is cheaper, for example, to provide housing for an individual than to incarcerate them for sleeping on the street. And as overcrowding in Minnesota’s prisons reaches crisis levels, sending people back on technical violations is a a key culprit, costing taxpayers millions each year.

While violation rules are set by the DOC, supervised and conditional release are contracted to most counties, so County Commissioners have the power to reduce parole officer discretion to end such violations locally. “Parole agents are the ‘prosecutors’ in these cases, so if they stop demanding people be sent to prison for non-crimes, you’d see dramatic changes,” says David Boehnke, of Decarcerate MN.

In addition to stopping the practice for future residents, loved ones of those currently incarcerated for technical violations want something more - that the County formally request the DOC to release their families from prison by the holidays.

To Boehnke this could be a win, win, win. “Our County Commissioners have the power to do everything right. Be leaders in racial equity. Save taxpayers millions of dollars. And give a priceless gift - ask the DOC to reunite our families for the holidays.”

Motion language being sent to the County Board can be found here, audio of violation stories here, with a petition being circulated asking the county and state to change.

Community members say that if change isn’t forthcoming they’ll be back in December with numbers. With the holidays right around the corner, one wishes them - and their families - the best of luck.


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