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

Home for the Holidays? MN DOC, Prisoners' Groups Negotiate to End Prison's Revolving Door


September 27, 2019

One in four people sitting in Minnesota’s prisons have served their time yet are back in prison, not for new crimes, but for minor violation of probation or supervised release. As overcrowding puts the future of the state’s prisons at “a crossroads,” the highest Department of Corrections officials are negotiating with a coalition of prisoners and their families to drastically reduce such violations.

“Our campaign is No New Crime, No New Time, because that is what we believe is in everyone’s interest” says David Boehnke, an organizer from the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee and Decarcerate MN Coalition. “We spend over 50 million a year locking up people for non-crimes. We can stop this, free those wrongfully incarcerated, and invest the savings in the supports people need to succeed.”

Lisa Miller, mother of Michael Ricks, currently incarcerated at Lino Lakes can speak to this from personal experience. “Michael was out after bootcamp, working full time, stable housing, going to AA twice a week, volunteering. But his parole officer sent him to prison for losing his AA cards, which he told them he’d lost, and having contact with a female friend who had an outstanding traffic ticket. Now he’s serving 21 months in prison, not with his daughters, costing the public nearly $80,000, for what?”

Duke Weekly, a prisoner at Lino Lakes, tells a similar story. “I did something wrong, and I went to prison for it. I understand that. But coming out and doing nothing wrong - certainly no crimes - and being sent back? That I don’t understand”. According to Weekly he was sent to prison after losing his “approved residence” - the home he owns - when his sister, whose family was staying with him, was taken off his “approved contact list”. This was because his sister transferred his data from an old phone to his new one, restarting the old phone.

“What you see is that parole officers are able to make decisions on speculation, regardless of impact on the public or social safety nets of returnees” says Philip Holmes, ex-prisoner and member of Decarcate MN. “Even if you win the hearing that is stacked against you and don’t go to prison for a non-crime, you’re still locked up for two weeks. So? You lose your job, can't afford your rent, lose your place and then you have to start from scratch." Holmes said. "That's happened to me three times."

At an August 21st meeting, Department of Corrections Commissioner Paul Schnell repeatedly mentioned people relapsing as reasons for them to be returned to prison, yet conceded there should be treatment alternatives. "We're absolutely committed to looking at how we manage technical violations in Minnesota," Schnell said. "It is important how we address this."

At that meeting prisoners and Department of Corrections created three joint working groups, with the goal of redesigning the system by October 9th - and getting prisoners home for the holidays.

While the DOC is unsure it can move that quickly families say it’s the least they can do to address wrongful incarcerations. “It would mean so much for Michael’s family, and his daughters in particular, if he were to be home by Christmas,” said Lisa Miller. “And I know that right now there are thousands of other mothers, brothers, children in this situation. This needs to change now. I want that change for all of us”.


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