The Minnesota Rehabilitation and Reinvestment Act allows inmates to earn early release by completing a rehabilitation plan. The act was moved into law August 1 – a cause for celebration for interested inmates and their loved ones. But spirits were quickly dampened when they found out it likely wouldn’t take effect for another two years.
According to the Minnesota Department of Corrections, the new law shifts the measure of success in the rehabilitation process from how much time has been spent to how that time has been spent. Through the completion of an individualized plan, inmates can take up to 25% off their sentences, and take up to 33% off of their time under supervision upon release. Furthermore, savings acknowledged through a reduction in use of imprisonment will be reinvested into the Justice Reinvestment Fund across four areas: victim support services, supervision services, crime prevention and intervention initiatives and correctional programs, and the state general fund. This act is open to all inmates, outside of “lifers.”
Community members welcomed the program, but say they are frustrated by the delay.
“We applaud Commissioner Snell and the Department of Corrections for pushing this through,” said Stefanie Brown of the Twin Cities Incarcerated Workers Committee. “However, the DOC has circulated a memo informing prisoners that these programs won't be implemented until January 2025, despite starting a successful two year pilot on the program in 2021 of individualized plans developed two years ago.”
“People are losing out on their time,” Brown continued. “Plus potential new voters will miss out on voting in the 2024 presidential election. We emphasize that these will be new voters because of the recently passed voting rights restoration law that now gets people who've completed their sentences and parolees the opportunity to vote.”
The Twin Cities Incarcerated Workers Committee held a press conference this week, opening up the space for testimonials by the families of inmates affected by the alleged delays around this act. Former Minnesota Corrections Officer Latrina Elaine Hodges represented her son, David Lawrence Hodges, who is currently serving time at the Moose Lake Correctional Facility, and has been incarcerated for 16 years. She says he is an example of those who deserve to have this opportunity honored immediately.
“One of the things that me and my son talk about is how we don't want history to repeat itself. One of the proudest moments that I had for my son was when he told me, ‘Mom, I’m turning myself in.’ He didn't run, he didn't hide. He said I have children, and it's time for me to man up and show them the right way to deal with something that is [causing] turmoil in your life that you don't want to face,” Hodge recalled. “My son has been incarcerated for approximately 16 years. My son takes ownership for the crimes that he committed that landed him in prison. His thing was he wasn't gonna let time do him, he was going to do his time and make it effective, and that's what he's doing. David has taken every course, and I have all his certificates to prove it.”
Hodges says in discussing her son’s prerequisites for early release with the Commissioner of Corrections, she received notice that her son’s earned certificates and course completions aren’t on his inmate file. She says he’s dedicated time to completing various courses, such as anger management, life skills, communications, interpersonal relationships, stress management, and more. But according to the Department of Corrections, it could take up to early 2025 for inmates’ prerequisites to be honored and start the process of their release.
“It’s like someone dangling a piece of cheese in front of a starving person. And then right when they get up to being able to grasp the cheese, they snatch it away from them and slam the door, and let you deal with your own emotions. But you're starving. And what you need is right outside that door,” said Hodges. “They have the necessary means to implement this, or should have. They've had plenty of enough time to do this. This is playing with somebody's emotions and the suicide rate in prison is really high. It's like, if they weren't gonna implement it right away, then they should have said that a long time ago. These are still human beings. The people who have served their time and repaid their debt to society, and are ready to come out and be members of society in a positive way, so history doesn't repeat itself… We can't just keep punishing people when they’ve served the time. They’re ready to come home.”
Hodges says her son already has employment lined up through a law firm and is obtaining his commercial driver’s license as a second method to earn income. She also says her son has housing setup upon his release, therapy, and a support and system as well. She says that she believes her son just wants to be a tangible example that you can change if you want to, but that mere hope doesn’t last forever.
The DOC has responded to the criticism, explaining that it will take time to ensure the success of the program.
“Though the MRRA passed and became law during the 2023 legislative session, it will take quite some time before it is fully up and running. The DOC will be working over the next months and years to carefully design and implement these complex policy changes to ensure program success. We will provide more information as it becomes available.”