Senate debates bill that would reduce prison sentences for violent offenders

"About 92% of the prison population will be eligible for an early release" under a DFL bill, Republicans said.

Sen. Ron Latz discusses his bill at a press conference Friday morning. (Minnesota Senate Media/YouTube)

The DFL-controlled Minnesota Senate is expected to pass an omnibus public safety bill Friday that Republicans say would dramatically reduce prison sentences for certain violent offenders.

Senate Republicans released a memo Thursday night spelling out their concerns with the bill, SF2909, carried by Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park.

The bill contains what Democrats are calling the “Minnesota Rehabilitation and Reinvestment Act,” which seeks to incentivize participation in rehabilitation programming by offering prisoners early release credits.

Under the current system, people serve two-thirds of their sentence in prison and the remaining third on supervised release. The MRRA could let prisoners out as early as the 50% mark as long as they follow an individualized rehabilitation plan, Commissioner of Corrections Paul Schnell explained during a February hearing.

“About 92% of the prison population will be eligible for an early release through the [MRRA]. It is applied retroactively and could impact about 7,400 of the approximately 8,000 prisoners in the state,” Republicans said in their memo.

A second provision in the bill would impact juveniles who were tried as adults for violent crimes. Under the provision, people who received a life sentence or a sentence of 15 years or more for committing a crime before the age of 18 will be eligible for supervised release upon reaching the 15-year mark, according to a Senate research summary.

The Minnesota County Attorneys Association expressed its concerns with this change in a March letter, providing a list of 96 inmates who would be eligible for early release. This includes a man who killed his parents and siblings with an ax, a man who stabbed a victim with a screwdriver while raping her, and several others convicted of murder.

“I think the GOP is really struggling to find a message that they think is going to gain some traction,” Latz said during a press conference Friday morning in response to some of the criticisms of the bill.

Latz said it “baffles” him that the GOP has an issue with the MRRA.

“The entire MRRA is premised upon creating incentives, a profit-motive if you will, to encourage people to better themselves before they get out into the community,” he said. “95% of our incarcerated individuals will be released back into the communities and this gives them incentive to do the things that will make themselves better people before they’re released.”

“Anyone who has kids knows it’s far more powerful to give them positive incentives to change their behavior than it is to discipline them,” he added.

Latz was also asked about the Minnesota County Attorneys Association’s letter but did not address it in his response.

The Senate is scheduled to take up the bill during its Friday floor session. Democrats currently have a one-seat majority in the Senate.


Anthony Gockowski
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Anthony Gockowski is Editor-in-Chief of Alpha News. He previously worked as an editor for The Minnesota Sun and Campus Reform, and wrote for the Daily Caller.