August 2022 In the News: Transforming Justice

Areas for Improvement

According to the State of Black Minnesota 2021 Report:

  • Blacks in the Twin Cities area are incarcerated at a rate 11 times that of whites.
  • Minnesota is fifth highest in the nation for people who are on probation.
  • Nearly 75 percent of formerly incarcerated individuals remained unemployed a year after release.

Source: Urban League Twin Cities

What Crime Victims Want

A survey revealed what 800 victims of crime preferred as restitution. The majority wanted to see investments in programs for at-risk youth and other crime prevention programs (82 percent) and shorter sentences with more of those funds spent on prevention and rehabilitation (61 percent). Only 19 percent believed prison helps rehabilitate people.

Source: allianceforsafetyandjustice.org

Programs That Address the Traumas Behind Crime

Next City develops stories about solutions to long-entrenched issues.

  • Success Stories works with incarcerated men in small groups to examine toxic masculinity. The program’s successful track record prompted it to expand into 11 California prisons.
  • She Writes Her Trauma is a Long Island nonprofit that helps incarcerated women write letters to their trauma.
  • Beyond Violence was created by Dr. Stephanie Covington, who says: “It became clear to me that any program addressing the violence women had committed would also need to address the aggression and violence they had personally experienced.” The program is now used in many women’s prisons and shows reductions in post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms, anger, aggression, and depression.
  • A violence intervention program in Oakland, Calif., reduced gun homicides by 52 percent in six years. Dr. Shani Buggs, a researcher in gun violence, advocates for intervention programs to be staffed by people who have experienced violence and understand the trauma.

Source: nextcity.org

First Incarcerated Student Admitted to Mitchell Hamline School of Law

Maureen Onyelobi, who is currently incarcerated in Shakopee, has joined the juris doctor program at Mitchell Hamline School of Law this fall. This makes Mitchell Hamline the first American Bar Association (ABA)-approved law school in the country to accept and educate currently incarcerated individuals.

Onyelobi’s acceptance comes after three years of effort from the Prison to Law Pipeline. The Prison to Law Pipeline is a program from All Square that aims to “transform the law through initiatives that center racial equity, wellness, and the expertise of those most impacted by the law” and facilitates ABA-accredited law degrees and ABA-approved paralegal degrees for incarcerated legal scholars.

According to Maya Johnson, the director of the Prison the Law Pipeline, other similar programs exist around the United States. They have one glaring caveat, though — most are not accredited by the ABA.

“People would get these paralegal degrees thinking they are setting themselves up to have a fruitful career when they get out,” Johnson says. “Then, the legal community [responds] ‘what is this?’ A vast majority of people I know ran into dead ends with that. Our program with North Hennepin is the first ABA-approved [program].”

Onyelobi will attend classes entirely online from Shakopee Women’s Prison, due to a variance granted by the ABA. The variance allows Mitchell Hamline to admit up to two incarcerated students each academic year for the next five years. Her tuition will be paid through scholarships that are available to all Mitchell Hamline students, as well as private fundraising.

The incarcerated individuals that participate in the Prison to Law pipeline as juris doctorate (JD) scholars or paralegal scholars also receive access to mental health, mentorship, and civil legal resources from the program, Johnson says. 

“It is not just the education piece, but a very holistic approach to supporting their reentry,” Johnson says. “Or just supporting them as they try to establish expertise or livelihood for themselves if they are not scheduled to be released from prison.”

Ramsey County Attorney’s Office Launches New Public Data Portal

The Ramsey County Attorney’s Office (RCAO) launched a new public data interface in July as an effort to increase the public’s understanding of the work the County Attorney’s Office does and “develop informed dialogue about desired outcomes. Our goal in providing this data is not only to increase transparency and accountability, but to engage our many stakeholders as we seek to achieve just and equitable outcomes for our community,” said Ramsey County Attorney John Choi in a press release.

The Public Data page is available here.