I am a Minnesotan
Minnesota has one of the lowest incarceration rates in the country, yet we also lay claim to the 8th highest rate of people currently under some form of correctional control – that is, in jail, in prison, on probation, or on parole. Nationally, one in every 31 adults is in the system; in Minnesota, it’s one in every 26. More than 150,000 people are under correctional control in this state; that’s the population of Duluth and St Cloud combined.
And these numbers have skyrocketed over the last few decades: in 1982, there were about 5,000 felony convictions in Minnesota, by 2008 that number swelled to 15,000. Over the years, the number of Minnesotans under correctional control has increased by approximately 380%.
The heaviest burden of our ballooning criminal justice system falls upon poor communities of color. In Minnesota, nonwhite residents make up less than 15% of the total population, but more than 46% of our prison population; African Americans alone make up less than 5% of our general population and 35% of our prison population. Proven patterns of bias in policies, policing, prosecution, and sentencing are undeniable.
But the punishment doesn’t end with the sentence. The data age has changed the realities, and opportunities, of second chances and reentry. In the 1980s, when many of the criminal laws and sanctions were first enacted, paper records of criminal histories were accessed in person in the county the offenses occurred – and only there; now, rap sheets from around the state and nation are only a keystroke away. Additionally, changes in law and in information-sharing capabilities have made records for both juveniles and adults widely, freely, and indefinitely available.
The proliferation of background checks by the burgeoning multi-billion-dollar industry should give us pause. According to recent surveys, more than 90% of employers conduct criminal background checks on job applicants. It should be no surprise that in a state with unconscionable disparities in our criminal justice system, that we have ever-widening employment gaps between African American, Latino, and Native American Minnesotans and white Minnesotans.
Further complicating the issue are the collateral sanctions to criminal records that are mandated by law. In other words, the state and federal statutes and codes that prohibit individuals with criminal histories from living in certain areas, working or volunteering in certain career fields, obtaining benefits, promotions, licenses, and loans.
For example, persons seeking to work or volunteer in fields or facilities that may provide direct care to vulnerable individuals are subjected to a criminal and juvenile background study. If certain offenses are found on the person’s background check (offenses ranging from felonies to misdemeanors and from convictions to mere arrests), he or she will be disqualified from working in the position or place. Over the course of just a few years, this profoundly impacts tens of thousands of people seeking to move forward in life.
In fact, when it comes to employment, housing, benefits, schooling, and countless other life necessities and opportunities, it doesn’t matter whether or not someone was incarcerated – it matters whether or not someone was caught; it’s the record that matters.
We Are All Criminals is a documentary and policy project that highlights the (at times) arbitrary and (at times) racially and economically disparate impact of criminal justice system and the resulting criminal record on hundreds of thousands of people in Minnesota.
By telling the stories of people who committed crimes but were never caught, WAAC seeks to expose the false dichotomy of criminal and ‘noncriminal,’ by seeding dialogue change regarding ‘criminals’ and records, privilege, redemption and second chances.
Minnesota has banned the box
Hire trained employees:
Every business wants trained and dedicated employees; let these local organizations do the work for you.
Get involved. Have your voice heard.
Too often, lawmakers believe that ‘tough on crime’ policies are the will of the people. Contact your legislators and let them know that you believe in second chances and smart on crime policies.
Volunteer your time:
Get involved with community action and systems change at Justice 4 All
Volunteer your legal expertise to help low and no-income Minnesotans overcome barriers to second chances with the Volunteer Lawyers Network
Support outreach at NAMI
If you have questions about your criminal record, or feel that you’ve been discriminated against due to your criminal record, consider contacting one of the following:
The City of Minneapolis, the City of St Paul, the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission if you believe you’ve been the subject of unlawful discrimination.
Minnesota Judicial Branch’s 4th District Self Help Center for expungement forms, filing assistance, and general questions.