Securing Our Safety
Human beings are not perfect, far from it. Many of us make mistakes at some point in our lives that run afoul of the law. The age-old question is what do we do as a society when one of our fellow citizens steps outside of our legal framework.
We are starting to understand some overarching trends in our current approach to criminal justice: Our rate of incarceration/supervised release does not necessarily make our state safer as our state has a consistent 35%-37% recidivism rate (MN Dept. of Human Rights). It's important to note as well that our criminal justice system disproportionately incarcerates people of color--Minnesota's prison population is 37% black, while only 6% of our state's population is African American.
Minnesota used hold the 2nd lowest incarceration rank in the nation. Over the past few years however, our incarcerated population has become among the fastest growing in the United States (StarTribune). In fact, "Minnesota is [now] tied with Alabama at 14th-highest rate per 100,000 residents who are under some form of correctional control, including prison, jail, probation and supervised release." (StarTribune). Unfortunately, our drastically growing prison population is increasingly consuming resources that our state simply doesn't have, and we need solutions.
I think we can take better approach to criminal justice that saves time, money, and makes sure that our state's persistent correctional facility overcrowding crisis is finally addressed without resorting to renting out private prison facilities. We can make practical changes that put "justice" at the center of criminal justice in Minnesota.
I believe that our prisons and our criminal justice system are for violent criminals such as murderers, domestic abusers, and people who commit the horrific crime of sexual assault. Our resources would be much better spent on making sure these people serve their time and cannot harm anyone else. Outside of these offenders, the majority of people who have interactions with the law can be rehabilitated, and should be allowed the opportunity to be full members of our society.
In particular, we must change the way we approach mental illness crises that lead to interactions with law enforcement, and how our system processes non-violent drug offenders. Our society is not made safer when someone who was once prescribed 90 pills of prescription opiates, and subsequently developed an addiction to heroin is thrown in prison for felony possession with a record for the rest of their life once they leave.
We have to be practical in our approach to addressing non-violent drug possession in our state as a matter of public health. This is not my endorsement of drug use, this is my attempt to make sure that people get the help that they need so that they can lead happy, healthy, and productive lives as Minnesotans all over our state struggle with the debilitating disease of drug addiction.
"I believe we can make more practical changes that put "justice" at the center of criminal justice in Minnesota."
By decriminalizing all forms of low-level, non-violent drug possession, we will not only save our limited financial resources as a state, but we will fulfill our obligation under our social contract to throw our fellow citizens a life preserver when they need one the most. This has been a wildly successful approach to reducing crime overall in places where this policy has been implemented, and the data shows promising trends that this is how we actually should be addressing drug abuse if we wish to see positive results.
One thing I have heard from law enforcement as well is that we as a society have neglected far too many areas of our community needs, which results in law enforcement having to deal with issues that our citizens face that they were never equipped to deal with. When someone experiencing a mental health emergency couldn't get the preventative mental health assistance they needed, we expect police to figure out what to do with that individual.
When a young man who has an unstable home life starts acting up in school, we expect the resource officer to have a solution when in reality all that child may need is a supportive counselor to help him develop the tools he needs for success; instead of being suspended, and conditioned from an early age to be another statistic of the school-to-prison pipeline. These changes must be made in conjunction with better accountability for our law enforcement officers as well. Every occupation has good and bad employees, and unfortunately in policing, the actions of bad officers endangers the lives of good officers, as well as of our fellow citizens.
We need to create an environment that is safe for officers to come forward when they see misconduct among their colleagues, without fear of penalty or retribution. Building community trust must also be a key part of our expectations for our officers as we seek better approaches to ensuring peace in our communities.
Common sense and criminal justice can go hand in hand, and Minnesota is a place where common sense goes a long way. Let's do better to keep our state safe, our people prosperous, and our laws just.