EDITORIAL: Crime Legislature strikes right balance on justice bill

·2 min read

May 17—The criminal justice bill nearing approval at the Legislature rightly focuses on rehabilitation instead of incarceration, with changes based on research that shows the strategies reduce crime.

Restorative justice in juvenile programs and incentives to reduce sentences based on inmates' progress in rehab programs are the centerpieces of the transformation in criminal justice programs. They address problems in the current juvenile justice system that focuses more on sentencing and weak rehabilitation programs, and a system that offers few incentives for adult inmates to have their sentences reduced.

The system has produced negative results including long incarcerations for prisoners based on technical probation violations and a mish-mash of juvenile justice programs that were better in some counties and worse in others. The new approach will include adding an Office of Restorative Justice and implementing the Minnesota Rehabilitation and Reinvestment Act, an incentive to reduce sentences if inmates agree to substance abuse and other rehabilitation programs.

Gov. Tim Walz had proposed these programs in his budget, with research showing the recidivism rates are much lower than typical programs. Minnesota Department of Public Safety estimates show an $18 per day savings per inmate. That saving will be used to fund victims' programs and juvenile programs.

Restorative justice programs have been shown to work particularly well in other states. Those programs call for perpetrators of crime to meet with victims and hear about the consequences of their crimes. In Colorado, 1,300 youth went through a restorative justice program, and only 1 in 10 committed another crime within one year.

A five-county area around Rochester has established a juvenile justice restorative program that has processed over 60 juvenile cases with the vast majority never re-offending, according to a report in the Star Tribune.

The new Minnesota approach would provide incentives for every county to set up a juvenile restorative justice program and such programs would involve victims but also community members on boards hearing cases and deciding futures. It would take some burden off an often overwhelmed juvenile court system.

If inmates agree to rehabilitation programs while in prison, they can have their sentences shortened up to 17%.

The new approach will reduce crime and save money. But it will also provide hope to those whose lives have gone wrong along the way.

People are not born to be criminals. Things happened to them somewhere along the way, either through societal barriers, their own bad decisions or both. It's a moral responsibility to give them a chance to get back to being the good people they started out as.