2014 Caucus Resolution – Restoring the Right to Vote

January 29, 2014

Whereas, approximately 63,000 Minnesotans are denied the right to vote under Minnesota law due to a past felony conviction and 75% of those individuals are living in the community;

Whereas, since 1974, the percentage of voting age Minnesotans disenfranchised as a result of a criminal conviction has increased over 400%;

Whereas, as a result of disproportionate conviction rates, disenfranchisement overwhelmingly affects communities of color – African-Americans make up roughly five percent of the Minnesota population and represent over a quarter of the total number of those disenfranchised and American Indians, less than two percent of the population, account for more than six percent of those individuals who are disenfranchised;

Whereas, involvement in civic life logically results in stronger ties to the community, and research has shown that persons with past criminal convictions are less likely to be arrested again in states that restore voting rights after release from incarceration;

Whereas, a policy that permits all individuals who have served their time in jail or prison to vote reduces confusion among voters and election officials about who can vote, thereby easing election administration and reducing government costs; and

Whereas, thirteen states already disenfranchise only those persons who are currently incarcerated for a felony conviction, not those on probation or parole.

Therefore, be it resolved that the _____________ Party supports restoring voting rights to Minnesotans convicted of a felony while they are on probation or parole.

If you have any question about how this works or about our resolution you can contact Mark Haase, 612-353-3035, or contact@restorethevotemn.org


Ban the Box Passes MN Senate and House Headed to Governor

May 8, 2013

MINNESOTA LEGISLATURE PASSES BAN THE BOX FOR PRIVATE EMPLOYERS

St. Paul, MN— Today the Minnesota House of Representatives passed legislation called “Ban the Box” by advocates because it requires employers to remove the question, including check box, about criminal records from employment applications. Under the change employers will only be able to ask about criminal records once they have selected applicants for interviews. Officially Senate File 523, the bill passed the House today on a strongly bipartisan vote of 107-26, and the Senate had already passed it with a bipartisan vote of 44-16. Now it will head to the Governor’s desk for signature.

In 2009, Governor Pawlenty signed legislation to make Minnesota one of the first states to require all public employers to wait until applicants are chosen for an interview to ask applicants about their criminal background. This new legislation will make Minnesota only the third state to expand the concept to private employers. The chief authors were Senator Bobby Joe Champion of Minneapolis and Representative Tim Mahoney of St. Paul.

Efforts to make this change have been supported by over 50 organizations that came together over 5 years ago to form the Minnesota Second Chance Coalition (www.mnsecondchancecoalition.org). According to Coalition co-chair Sarah Walker, “The support and work of all involved in the Second Chance Coalition and others, including the efforts of Minnesota business associations to find a solution that would work best for employers, is what has made this possible.”

According to Second Chance Coalition information, over the last several decades, the number of Minnesotans throughout the state that have some type of a criminal record has increased to an estimated one million, or one in 5. Minnesota has the 8th highest percentage in the nation of its citizens incarcerated or currently on some type of supervision. With new and much easier access to these records and increased use of them by employers, many Minnesotans are turned away from employment for which they are qualified even if their record is unrelated, from long ago, or even inaccurate, often just based on their answer to the sometimes confusing question about criminal records on the initial employment application. Employers will benefit from this legislation by opening the initial step of their hiring process to a larger, potentially more qualified, and diverse pool of applicants and determining if their past is relevant to their current qualifications as an employee. Workers will benefit by being evaluated on their skills and qualifications for the job, not just their past. Those who have offended will then have greater opportunity to become responsible and tax-paying community members. Minnesota will benefit by developing a workforce that is employed to its full potential, both now and into the future when the demand for trained and skilled employees will increase.

Sarah Walker, sarahcwalker@gmail.com
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What is the Minnesota Second Chance Coalition?

January 19, 2013

In 2007 a group of Minnesota non-profit leaders and reentry practitioners met to discuss the possibility of raising awareness throughout the state regarding the challenges facing individuals with criminal records. Many of them represented organizations that provided direct services of varying types, such as employment and housing, but found that the success of their clients and their programs was greatly limited by the criminal records that often and more and more held them back. Organizations committed to reform agreed to host the first-ever event with the express focus of bringing ex-offenders and their supporters to the capitol and raising awareness of the too often invisible struggles faced by those with criminal records. The first “Second Chance Day on the Hill” was held February 13, 2008. The coalition applied for a small grant to help fund these efforts and with just $5,000 was able to bring over five-hundred people to the capitol.
While the first “Second Chance Day on the Hill” was successful in mobilizing a large number of individuals to attend there were few tangible results to herald. However, many community members and non-profit leaders encouraged the informal coalition to host another “Second Chance Day on the Hill” the following year. The lead organizers of the group met and agreed to move forward with planning for 2009. That year, the mobilization efforts combined with direct lobbying efforts lead by the Council on Crime and Justice did lead to significant positive and tangible results. Governor Tim Pawlenty signed into law a bill which requires all Minnesota public employers to wait until a job applicant has been selected for an interview before asking about a criminal record or conducting a criminal record check, except for positions that already require a background check. Passage of this legislation made Minnesota the first state to adopt a statewide “Ban the Box” law since the initiative to remove the questions about past criminal record was undertaken by All of Us or None of Us, a California based non-profit advocacy group. Another law was also enacted limiting the admission of evidence of an employees’ criminal record against an employer if: (1) the duties of the position did not expose others to a greater risk than that created by the employee interacting with the public outside of the duties of the position or that might be created by being employed in general; (2) a court order sealed any record of the criminal case; or (3) the record did not result in a criminal conviction. This law has since been lauded as one of the strongest criminal record employee liability protections statutes in the country.
The legislation was passed in large part due to the success of the grassroots organizing efforts of the Second Chance Coalition (www.mnsecondchancecoalition.org). At that time the Coalition was a diverse coalition of twenty-four community organizations, including: 180 Degrees, Inc. AMICUS, Goodwill/Easter Seals MN, Council on Crime and Justice, Rebuild Resources, Jacob Wetterling Foundation, RS Eden, Minnesota Council of Churches, NOLA Investigates – Criminal Defense Investigation, MN Catholic Conference, Minnesota Fathers & Families Network, Northside Policy Action Coalition, People Escaping Poverty Project, Project for Pride in Living, MN Children’s Defense Fund, Peace Foundation, Take Action Minnesota, Minneapolis Urban League, HIRED, Life in Recovery, NAMI MN, Barbara Schneider Foundation, Elim Transitional Housing, Emerge Community Development, Greater Minneapolis Council of Churches, and Jules Fairbanks Chemical Dependency Services.

Since 2007 this group of leaders, advocates, and affected individuals have continued to meet and press forward with policy reform. Membership has grown to over 50 organizations. The Coalition recently held it’s 6th annual Second Chance Day on the Hill, with hundreds of attendees from across the state, over 20 legislators in attendance, and agreed-upon policy priorities such as applying “Ban the Box” to private employers, protection of juvenile records, and expanding voting right to felons immediately after release from jail or prison.
The Coalition is still informal and is not a non-profit organization, but members recently approved bylaws and the election of a 13 member Executive Committee in order to clarify roles and decision-making. 180 Degrees, Inc has provided administrative and fiscal support for the Coalition.
The efforts of members of the Second Chance Coalition have demonstrated the potential of moving beyond traditional organizational and issue silos. The Second Chance Coalition has successfully helped create bridges to non-traditional allies such as: rural and urban communities, Juvenile Justice Advocate and Criminal Justice advocates, youth serving/advocating organizations and adult serving/advocating organizations, small non-profits and large national non-profits, community based organizations and “systems” based organization, religious and secular organization, organizations with seemingly different issue focuses and among organizations traditionally vying for legislative support.
Non-profit organizations who could just as easily be competing for declining public dollars were working together toward common goals. One of the factors to which the Second Chance Coalition attributes success is the emergence of a new, youthful and energetic leadership. These emerging leaders have successfully collaborated while limiting organizational and individual power-struggles allowing an increased sense of individual and organizational efficacy. To accomplish all of this has required commitments of time and resources. In addition, it required leveraging individual and organizational relationships that no one organization could have managed alone. For example, Rebuild Resources, a social enterprise that works with individuals in the recovery and re-entry process has provided T-shirts and Buttons at cost. Rebuild Resources, members of the coalition, believed the work of the coalition was in line with their mission and made a generous in-kind donation. Another factor contributing to the success of the Coalition and the passing of “Ban the Box” was a coordinated and professional marketing campaign. In preparation for the 2008 Second Chance Day on the Hill Goodwill/Easter Seals MN marketing department designed the coalition’s logo. The slogan for the 2008 Day on the Hill was “Can you Imagine Life without a Second Chance.” Rebuild and Goodwill have continued to provide these resources each year.
The work and impact of the Coalition can best be summarized in the words of some of its members:
“Individuals who felt that their voices had long ago been forgotten had a chance to remind us about who they are and the power of their stories. Legislators who can feel isolated among their peers when talking about providing second chances saw the huge amount of grassroots support there was for their work.”

“I was walking in the halls of the capitol – trying to get to the press conference on the Second Chance legislative platform when I ran into an acquaintance from one of the other participating organizations. We spoke about what a great day it was and how powerful cooperation among our agencies could be. That brief discussion led to a meeting between the head of my organization and the head of his, exploring ways our organizations can work together. It may lead to more solid ideas for partnering but, even if it doesn’t go that far, it opened our eyes further as to what is happening out in the community and that’s always a good thing.”
“I am so proud to be part of MN Second Chance Coalition (I say it all the time, but it bears repeating!) This is such a victory for the men and women many of us serve who want nothing more than an even chance to re-engage community in healthy and productive ways.”
“I am completely indebted to those who have offered mentorship and guidance and, I am even more indebted to the many individuals and organization who have worked on the issues of reentry for years. Their work laid the foundation for the emergence of the Minnesota Second Chance Coalition.”
We hope that the work of the Second Chance Coalition will soon lead to more positive reforms for Minnesotans with criminal records and their families, and in turn our entire community. We hope you will join us.

Below are the mission and principles of the Coalition developing in our second year.

Pinciples
The Minnesota Second Chance Coalition advocates for fair and responsible laws, policies, and practices that allow those who have committed crimes to redeem themselves, fully support themselves and their families, and contribute to their communities to their full potential. The Coalition supports reforms that:
1. ENSURE THAT EVERYONE, REGARDLESS OF MEANS OR BACKGROUND, IS TREATED EQUALLY AND FAIRLY THROUGH EVERY PART OF THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM.
2. MAXIMIZE THE ABILITY OF EX-OFFENDERS TO ACCESS EMPLOYMENT, HOUSING, AND EDUCATION, AND TO BECOME FULLY CONTRIBUTING MEMBERS OF THEIR COMMUNITIES.
3. ENSURE THAT JUVENILE OFFENDERS ARE NOT LIMITED IN THEIR ABILITY TO BECOME SUCCESSFUL ADULTS.
4. FULLY DIAGNOSE AND TREAT MENTAL ILLNESS AND CHEMICAL ADDICTION.
5. LIMIT THE POTENTIALLY ADVERSE IMPACT OF THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM ON CHILDREN AND FAMILIES.

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Mark Haase and Sarah Walker, Co-Chairs, Minnesota Second Chance Coalition


Buses for 2013 Second Chance Day on the Hill: January 16th @ 10:00AM

December 18, 2012

The Minnesota Second Chance Coalition will be offering buses from St. Cloud, Duluth, North Minneapolis and South Minneapolis to the State Capitol in St. Paul for the 2013 Second Chance Day on the Hill. Please contact the listed contact person to reserve a seat or with any questions. Looking forward to seeing you on January 16th!

Duluth

Contact person to reserve seats: Dana Race, SOAR Career Solutions
Contact person phone/email: 218.722.3126; drace@soarcareers.org

Bus departure site: Corner of 2nd Street/2nd Avenue West (Arrowhead Place building), Duluth, MN 55802

Bus departure time: Loading 7:00-7:30am; bus departs at 7:30am.
Bus leaves the Capitol at: Approximately 12:00pm
Bus returns to original site at: 2:15pm

St. Cloud

Contact person to reserve seats: Dexter Stanton
Contact person phone/email: 320.217.3079; dexterstanton@hotmail.com

Bus departure site: Higher Ground Church- 327 9th Ave S, St. Cloud, MN 56301

Bus departure time: Loading 7:45-8:15am; bus departs 8:15am.
Bus leaves the Capitol at: Approximately 12:00pm
Bus returns to original site at: 1:30pm

South Minneapolis

Contact person to reserve seats: Pamela Rogers
Contact person phone/email: 612.455.5297; pamela.rogers@ppl-inc.org

Bus departure site: PPL Learning Center- 1925 Chicago Ave S, Minneapolis, MN 55404

Bus departure time: Loading 8:30-9am; bus leaves at 9am
Bus leaves the Capitol at: Approximately 11:00am
Bus returns back to PPL at: App. 11:30am

North Minneapolis

Contact person to reserve seats: Teresa Mullins
Contact person phone/email: 612.529.9267; mullinst@emerge-mn.org

Bus departure site: Emerge- 1101 West Broadway Avenue, Minneapolis, MN 55411

Bus departure time: Loading 8:30-9am; bus leaves at 9am
Bus leaves the Capitol at: Approximately 11:00am
Bus returns back to Emerge at: App. 11:45am


HAVE YOU BEEN DENIED EMPLOYMENT BECAUSE OF AN ARREST OR CONVICTION RECORD?

June 14, 2012

WHAT TO DO IF YOU HAVE BEEN DENIED EMPLOYMENT

Criminal Records in Hiring Decisions
With more than ninety-two percent of employers using background checks in hiring decisions, qualified applicants with criminal histories may not be given a fair consideration. This is particularly true in an already tight job market.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is concerned that the use of criminal background checks in hiring decisions is having an unfair and unlawful impact on minority applicants.  The agency recently issued new guidelines that reaffirmed that it is illegal for employers to use arrest and conviction records to exclude job-seekers unless those records are directly related to the job being sought.
Employers who have a blanket policy of refusing to consider ex-offenders for employment may be committing unlawful discrimination if their background-check policies disproportionately impact minority applicants.

While the law does not prohibit an employer from requiring applicants or employees to provide information about arrests, convictions, or incarceration, employers are not permitted to discriminate based on race, ethnicity, color, national origin, religion, or sex. Similarly, employers’ use of background reports is strictly controlled by the Fair Credit Reporting Act, which places numerous procedural restrictions on the methods employers may use to obtain those reports, and on the manner in which the employer must inform applicants that it is relying on such a report.
This means that if you have been denied a job, denied a promotion, or fired because of a prior arrest or conviction, you may be able to bring a discrimination claim, or a claim under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, against the employer.
What You Can Do
• Save all documents relating to your job application or employment.

• If you believe you were not hired because of an arrest or conviction, or would like more information about your rights, you can contact the employment discrimination lawyers at Nichols Kaster for a free consultation via toll-free telephone at 877-448-0492 or via email at intake@nka.com.
Who May Be Impacted
• An estimated 65 million people in the United States—or 1 in 4 adults—have an arrest or conviction record that can show up on a routine criminal background check for employment, according to the Council on Crime and Justice.

• 1 in 3 black men and 1 in 6 Hispanic men will serve time in jail during their lifetimes, compared to 1 in 17 white men, according to the EEOC.
Potential Legal Claims
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects individuals against employment discrimination on the bases of race and color, as well as national origin, sex, and religion. The EEOC’s recent guidance indicates that employers who have policies of not hiring people who have criminal backgrounds may violate the law in the following ways:
• Disparate Impact: A seemingly neutral employment policy, such as a criminal background check, that disproportionately excludes applicants based on race or national origin may be illegal if the employer cannot demonstrate that the policy is job related for the positions in question and consistent with business necessity.

For instance, because black and Hispanic men are arrested and convicted at a statistically higher rate than white men, on average, excluding individuals from employment based on the existence of a criminal record may illegally screen out minority applicants.

Instead, if employers are excluding applicants based on their criminal records, the underlying offense must be “job related and consistent with a business necessity.”

In considering the criminal history of an applicant or employee, an employer is to analyze the (1) nature and seriousness of the crime, (2) the time elapsed, and (3) the nature of the job held or sought. The employer also is justified in excluding the worker if there is data linking the criminal conduct to work performance or behavior.

If you feel that you were not fairly considered for employment, or if you were fired based on your criminal background, you should consider taking action.

Arrest Versus Conviction: Simply being arrested does not prove that you have committed a crime, and being excluded as a job candidate based on an arrest alone may be illegal. However, an employer may make an employment decision based on the activity that resulted in the arrest if it is job related.

Disparate Treatment: It is illegal for an employer to treat criminal history information differently for different applicants or employees, based on their race or national origin. This means that two applicants with similar criminal histories—white and black applicants with misdemeanor convictions within the past five years, for instance—must be treated the same.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act
• If employers conduct a criminal background check, they also must comply with the legal requirements of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA):

o Applicants and employees must be given stand-alone, written notice prior to the background check.

o Applicants and employees must provide written permission for the background check.

o At least 5 days before an employer can reject an applicant based on the background check, it must provide a letter saying it may take adverse action based on the background check, provide the applicant with a copy of the report and allow time for the applicant to correct inaccurate information.

o After any adverse action is taken the employer must give the applicant or employee notice of that fact.

o An employer who violates these requirements may be liable for up to $1,000 per violation, per person.

What To Do if You Believe Your Rights May Have Been Violated
• Contact lawyers with experience in this area. The employment discrimination lawyers at Nichols Kaster, PLLP will provide a free consultation and can be reached via toll-free telephone at 877-448-0492 or via email at intake@nka.com

• Save any documents related to the application process, including a copy of the application (if you have one) and any letters you received from the employer. Also save emails, text messages, Facebook messages, and any notes you made during the process.

• Provide the employer with information you would like them to consider. If your conviction was expunged, if you have a strong job history, if you have rehabilitated yourself, or if there is other information that you think should be considered, contact the employer and ask them to reconsider your application in light of that information. Keep copies of anything you send in writing, and make notes of your conversations.

• Act quickly. Statutes of limitations may limit your ability to bring claims, so it is important that you act quickly to preserve your rights. Consider contacting a lawyer as soon as an employer notifies you that your criminal background may cause you not to be hired.


National Employment Law Project :For Immediate Release: April 25, 2012

April 27, 2012

Contact: Tim Bradley, 314.440.9936, tim@berlinrosen.com
Bipartisan EEOC Vote Updates Criminal Background Check Policies to Prevent Discrimination

In 4-1 Vote, Guidance Promotes Fair Hiring Process for Adults with Arrests or Convictions, While Preserving Employer Flexibility and Security on the Job

Washington, D.C.—The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) voted 4-1 with bipartisan support today to update its decades-old guidance on how employers may use criminal background checks in hiring.

The last EEOC guidance on employer use of criminal records to screen applicants dates back to 1987, when current Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas chaired the EEOC. The guidance reaffirms the basic standards adopted in 1987 under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. As required then, and reaffirmed by subsequent amendments to Title VII, because criminal background checks have a “disparate impact” on people of color, employers must show that the screening process is “job related” and consistent with “business necessity.” As the new guidance reaffirms, that means employers must consider the age of the offense, the seriousness of the offense, and its relation to the job in question.

In clarifying and updating the guidance, the EEOC took extra care to describe the civil rights law and the latest social science research that strongly support the policy. The guidance includes a dozen helpful examples that clarify the basic standards applied by the EEOC, along with a 4-page “question and answer” summarizing the new guidance and a one-page “best practices” guide for employers. The EEOC also clarified how existing Title VII protections apply when state and local laws may regulate employment of people with criminal records, while also strongly encouraging employers to engage the worker in an individual assessment of the circumstances surrounded the criminal record. In the end, the new guidance responds to the most timely issues that have surfaced since the proliferation of criminal background checks, while maintaining significant employer flexibility to protect safety and security on the job.

Details and analysis on the full guidance and Q&A will be presented in a National Employment Law Project briefing with the NAACP and employers and jobseekers on Thursday, April 26th, at 11:30 am ET (RSVP to tim@berlinrosen.com).

“We applaud the EEOC, under the leadership of Chair Berrien, on this significant bipartisan action. Given the new realities of criminal background checks and the difficulties workers face in navigating today’s economy, the EEOC has appropriately elevated the criminal records issue and taken needed steps to better prevent job discrimination,” said Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project. “More employers are running criminal background checks than ever before. At the same time, more Americans than ever have arrest or conviction records, including disproportionate numbers of workers of color. Factor in how hard it remains for qualified job seekers to land a job in today’s economy, plus the sky-high unemployment rates facing African Americans and Latinos, and it’s clear why it was time for the EEOC to act.”

Today, more than 90 percent of employers conduct criminal background checks on some or all job applicants (up from 51 percent in 1996), according to a 2010 Society of Human Resources Management survey. The ramped-up use of criminal background checks adds a major hurdle to the job prospects of a vast segment of U.S. workers.

Workers such as Elsie Sacarello Quiles, a 56-year-old mother of four from Marietta, Georgia, have felt the sting of no-hire policies. Last year, Elsie was fired on her third day on the job as a school bus driver, after a 1973 disorderly conduct offense from her teenage years came to light. She was fired despite having strong references and 21 years of experience in education—six years as a school bus driver and 15 years working with students as a paraprofessional—and despite the fact that under New York law, where she had been charged with disorderly conduct, her offense was a “violation” and not a criminal conviction.

“The school district decided that what happened nearly 40 years ago was reason to fire me. I felt so humiliated by it. And it’s been hard for my family since I lost my job,” said Quiles. “No one should have to go through this. Employers have a responsibility to follow the law and look at the individual for the job. I’ve proven that I’m a great employee. My past employers will tell you that. It makes no sense that something so minor, so unrelated to my ability to do the job well, from so long ago, got me fired.”

“Representing many hundreds of workers with a criminal record over the years who have turned their lives around, it’s clear that the EEOC action will go a long way to bring fairness to the criminal background check process,” said Sharon Dietrich, a managing attorney with Community Legal Services of Philadelphia. “It will help qualified applicants who can’t get a foot in the door because of overbroad restrictions, like blanket bans on hiring someone with a record; and will help my clients who pose no threat on the job but who have been denied consideration because of a minor, irrelevant, or dated blemish on their record.”

Employers who are concerned about this issue also welcomed the clearer guidance from the EEOC. Brad Friedlander, a small business owner with five restaurants and 340 employees in Miami, Boca Raton, and Cleveland, said: “In my 40 years in the restaurant business, I’ve learned that a lot of employers just won’t consider anyone with a criminal record for a job, even if the person has the qualifications. The new EEOC guidelines, if they’re publicized and enforced, will go a long way to inform my fellow restaurant owners that there’s a more fair and responsible way to screen people with records. In the end, as I’ve found, these workers can turn out to be the most dedicated and professional employees I have on my payroll.”

Fernán R. Cepero, vice president of human resources with the YMCA of Greater Rochester, added: “I’ve worked in the community for over 26 years, now serving as head of HR for a major urban employer. As an employer who is often asked to speak on this issue, I can say that there is a definite lack of knowledge about how to comply with the civil rights laws. Plus, there’s never been more of a need to get it right, since more employers are using these background checks than ever before. Updating the EEOC guidance puts this issue in front of employers and will give HR professionals the guidance they need to screen more fairly while ensuring safety and security on the job.”

Violations of federal civil rights laws in the form of blanket restrictions against hiring people with criminal records persist, despite the earlier guidance. Just this year, Pepsi agreed to a $3.13 million settlement after denying jobs to anyone with an arrest—even if the arrest never led to conviction or was minor and not job-related. A 2011 report by the National Employment Law Project documented these kinds of violations based on an analysis of job ads posted on Craigslist by small and large employers across the United States.

In the wake of the updated EEOC guidance, groups around the country will be stepping up their efforts to educate employers as well as workers on the fair use of criminal background checks.
Demand for the revised guidance was strong. Following a 2011 hearing on the issue, the EEOC received more than 300 public comments, which—by a two-to-one ratio—supported the need for updating the guidelines, to better reflect changes in the economy, workplace, and world of criminal records screening since issuance of the initial guidance 25 years ago.

The National Employment Law Project is a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization that conducts research and advocates on issues affecting low-wage and unemployed workers. For more about NELP, visit http://www.nelp.org.


Aging Prison Population

March 21, 2012

The Problem

Harsher policies and longer prison sentences have led to an increase in the number of elderly adults, those over the age of 50, throughout our nation’s correctional facilities. These inmates are more likely to have health problems because they often come from poor backgrounds, have a greater likelihood of drug and alcohol abuse, and likely had restricted access to health care prior to incarceration. Compared with the younger inmates, older inmates have higher rates of both mild and serious health conditions, such impaired movement, functional disabilities, mental illness, increased risk of major diseases, and a need for assistance with daily living activities. Further, hearing loss, vision problems, arthritis, hypertension, and dementia are much more common among older inmates.

As the number of elderly prisoners increase, so do the number of medical problems and the amount of resources needed to treat such problems. There are currently 1,123 inmates over the age of 50 incarcerated throughout Minnesota. Keeping these inmates behind bars is incredibly expensive. Health care costs for older inmates are much higher than for younger inmates. Current estimates suggest that it costs about $70,000 a year to incarcerate an elderly inmate, whereas younger inmates cost approximately $22,000. States, including Minnesota, are beginning to realize the expensive repercussions of their sentencing practices, and must consider resources carefully during the next few years as the number of elderly prisoners continues to grow and the need to reduce costs of caring for these prisoners becomes absolutely necessary. The central argument for releasing elderly inmates is that society cannot afford the medical and personal care they require.

The Solution

In attempt to manage the increasing cost, legislators and policymakers should consider early release for older prisoners who pose a low risk to public safety. While it is critical that policy-makers weigh the cost-saving benefits of elderly and terminally-ill inmate releases with the need to ensure justice and public safety, it is important to remember that most elderly inmates are no longer a threat to society. Inmates who are physically impaired are not a danger to society because they are actually incapable of committing further crime, while others are completely rehabilitated and no longer care to. Inmates who are no longer a threat should be released to a less costly type of care – nursing homes or halfway houses that will provide such care.


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