Police & Criminal Justice Reform
The state legislature must change how police and the criminal justice system operate in Minnesota.
Police brutality is a plague in Minnesota and in our country, and the death and damage police have caused in the Black community is sickening. People of color and those from Indigenous communities have been subjected to systemic racism and unfair treatment for centuries, and it’s long past time for change, especially regarding police hiring, training, and accountability to the communities they are paid by taxpayers to serve.
Some police departments have taken some positive steps toward eradicating brutality and discrimination from their ranks, but it’s clear that we must act from the outside if we want concrete, systemic change in policing in Minnesota. Senate Republicans blocked the passage of any meaningful reforms in the June 2020 special legislative session, so as a minimum first step in the next session, the legislature must pass into law the Minnesota Police Accountability Act, a comprehensive reform package that was written by members of the DFL People of Color and Indigenous Caucus and passed by the House on June 20.
The legislature should also consider solutions that involve gradually reallocating money from police budgets to fund more mental health service providers, social workers, and victim and survivor advocates, as well as to fund the important social services that meet Minnesotans’ basic needs.
Criminal Justice Reform
I support legalizing recreational marijuana in Minnesota for adults over the age of 21. A Star Tribune article from February 2020 shows that a majority of Minnesotans support legalization, and the ACLU reports that Minnesota ranks eighth in the country for worst racial disparities in marijuana possession arrests, with a Black person more than FIVE TIMES more likely to be arrested on this charge than a white person. The economic benefits of legalization would be massive – by some estimates, it could bolster economic activity in the state by $2.6 billion annually, create 20,000 new jobs, and raise $300 million in tax revenue in the first five years. That new revenue can be used in a wide range of areas where increased investment is badly needed, including infrastructure maintenance and public education. By becoming the 12th state (along with Washington, D.C.) to legalize recreational marijuana, we will significantly boost our economy and put an end to one aspect of discriminatory practices in law enforcement.
When we legalize marijuana, we must also release from incarceration people who are currently serving time for non-violent marijuana-related convictions and expunge their criminal records, as well as the records of those who previously served time for non-violent marijuana convictions.
I support restoring the vote for all Minnesotans who have completed their sentences for felony convictions. According to the ACLU, 53,000 Minnesotans are currently barred from voting due to a prior felony conviction. Instead of deterring crime by taking away rights from people convicted of felonies, this disenfranchisement actually harms public safety by making it more difficult to reintegrate citizens back into society – for example, a Florida government study found that people whose voting rights were restored upon their release from prison were three times less likely to return to the criminal justice system. 13 states have restored the right to vote for non-incarcerated people with past felony convictions, and Minnesota should join them.
I support reforming Minnesota’s cash bail system. According to a 2019 report from the Minneapolis Foundation, our state Constitution prevents judges from imposing “excessive” bail, but does not require them to set “affordable” bail, and there is a major difference between those two words. This has a disproportionate impact on low-income populations, because when you’re unable to post bail, you are held in jail until the next stage of the court process begins (which is often months later) despite not having been convicted of any crimes. This causes job loss, family upheaval, and much more. There are many possible solutions for the legislature to explore, including implementing a racially-neutral risk assessment system that defaults to pre-trial release for every defendant, except when defendants are charged with specific serious crimes or when it’s believed there’s a legitimate risk of them not re-appearing in court for their trial.
I support making sure that incarcerated Minnesotans are counted as residents of the districts in which they resided at the time of their arrest. According to a 2019 report from the Prison Policy Initiative, there are 10 state House districts in Minnesota where state and federal prison populations are counted as residents, which distorts our democracy by significantly increasing the weight of the votes cast by the non-incarcerated residents of those districts. Nobody is allowed to vote while incarcerated in Minnesota, either in the district in which their facility is located or in the district they called home before incarceration, but the residents of those (mainly rural) districts get a representative in the State Capitol without having met the same number of permanent residents as districts that don’t contain correctional facilities. We must discontinue this practice, which is known as prison gerrymandering.