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Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission Votes on 5-Year Probation Cap

Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission Votes on 5-Year Probation Cap

On January 9, 2020, The Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission made a monumental step toward reducing the number of Minnesotans under supervision by voting 8-3 in favor of capping the length of probation for people convicted of crimes to 5 years. The new sentencing guidelines will take effect on August 1, 2020 but will not retroactively apply to individuals who were placed on probation prior to that date.

The new 5-year probation cap is a step in the right direction toward criminal justice reform. Though Minnesota had the fifth-lowest incarceration rate in the nation (380 individuals per 100,000 adults 18 and over), Minnesota ranked fifth highest for the number of individuals on community supervision (2450 per 100,000 adults 18 and over).[1]

Furthermore, the 5-year cap should help create consistency in probation lengths across judicial districts. According to the Robina Institute, the average length of probation varied significantly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. The Robina Institute found the average probation length in 2015 was 7.3 years in the Ninth Judicial District (Kittson County, Roseau County, Marshall County, Pennington County, Red Lake County, Polk County, Clearwater County, Norman County, Mahnomen County, Hubbard County, Lake of the Woods County, Beltrami County, Cass County, Koochiching County, Itasca County, and Aikin County) whereas the Fourth Judicial District (Hennepin County) had a 3.3 year average probation length in 2015.

Probation is often touted as a favorable alternative to incarceration, and a way to help people exit the criminal justice system. However, excessively lengthy probation sentences with oppressive restrictions and exigent conditions often set people up to fail and channeling them into prisons and jails. Additionally, the superabundant number of people on probation strains the already limited resources available for probationers, which limits the effectiveness of probation as a mechanism to reduce recidivism. To improve the effectiveness and efficiency of probation, Minnesota should reduce its outsized probation population, and the 5-year probation cap is one step in the right direction.

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