The Minnesota Department of Corrections held a virtual town hall in regard to the Minnesota Rehabilitation and Reinvestment Act on Thursday evening.
“I want to be really clear that this, in my view, is one of the most significant changes ever related to corrections in our state,” DOC Commissioner Paul Schnell said.
Schnell explained that the new program enlists a team of people to work with an individual entering the system and creates an individualized program that follows that person throughout their incarceration. He said the program is designed to reward good behavior and personal growth behind bars with early release. This program does not apply to those serving indeterminate or life sentences.
Once out of prison and on supervised release, a person’s continued good behavior will help them to graduate to unsupervised release faster.
Early release saves the DOC money. Those savings will be put into an account to fund healing opportunities for crime victims, to facilitate the reentry of those formerly incarcerated into their communities, and to fund efforts to prevent recidivism. 25% of money saved will be returned to the Minnesota Treasury.
“The policy will likely take us somewhere between 18 and 24 months to implement this policy,” Schnell said. “There is no model for this. We don’t even have a mechanism today of being able to log, record, or document the reduction of a person’s sentence in any kind of court system records.”
Schnell said that it is imperative for the DOC to get this program right to ensure its long-term viability.
The hour-long talk by Commissioner Paul Schnell also addressed concerns families had for their loved ones, such as reimbursement for confiscated items, air conditioning and heating, and free phone calls.
Some families who had purchased game consoles for their loved ones behind bars had those consoles confiscated due to “objectionable content.” Schnell said that those families would be reimbursed.
On July 1, Minnesota became the third state in the U.S. to allow free phone calls in prison, and there is no limit on the number of calls a person can make. Video calls are still not free due to Schnell ensuring that the tablet distributor is in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
An indeterminate sentencing review board will be established next July, with the goal of reviewing and commuting sentences for people serving life sentences with parole.