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 positive steps toward eradicating brutality and discrimination from their ranks, but it’s clear that we must act from the outside if we want to reimagine policing in Minnesota. The police reform legislation passed by the state legislature in the July 2020 special session was a good first step. Now, the legislature must consider solutions that involve investing much more than we currently do in the services of experts like mental health professionals, crisis intervention specialists, victim and survivor advocates, and social workers, to name a few, who can help respond to 911 calls and keep everyone safe in the many situations that don’t immediately require the presence of armed police officers who don’t have the same level of specialized training. It’s also important that we address these problems by funding the 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 and public education. When we legalize marijuana, we should also release from incarceration people who are 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 – 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 doesn’t require them to set “affordable” bail, and there is a major difference between those two words. This has a disproportionate impact on low-income Minnesotans, because when you’re unable to post bail, you’re held in jail until the next stage of the court process begins (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.
In my first legislative session I authored the following bills that would help address some of the issues mentioned above. If you want to learn more about the bills or have additional ideas please reach out to my Senate Office.
Signed into law:
Prepared and paid for by Campaign of Ann Johnson Stewart, PO Box 46505, Plymouth, MN 55446