Thompson case shows gaps in new Minnesota law on early prison release, GOP says

The son of former DFL legislator John Thompson was released from prison earlier than he should have been because of a California law similar to a newly enacted Minnesota program, a House GOP memo said.

Derrick John Thompson/Hennepin County Jail

The Minnesota House Republican Caucus is contending that a new early prison release program that Democrats passed this session includes major components that are similar to a California program that allowed Derrick Thompson out of prison more than five years before his sentence related to a 2018 felony hit-and-run conviction was set to end.

Thompson, 27, of Brooklyn Park was charged on Thursday with 10 felony counts of criminal vehicular homicide in connection with the death of five young women who were hit by a rented vehicle he was driving on June 16 along Lake Street in Minneapolis.

Thompson, son of former DFL legislator John Thompson, was released from prison in January after serving just three years of an eight-year sentence in connection to a California hit-and-run that put a woman in a coma, the state’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation confirmed.

Thompson was “released to parole supervision in Ventura County after serving his full sentence as defined by law,” a California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokesperson said. Thompson was then transferred to the supervision of the Minnesota Department of Corrections in March of this year to complete his parole.

KARE 11 confirmed that Thompson participated in the California Department of Corrections’ “fire camp,” which allows inmates to earn credits toward their sentence.

“Camp participants also earn time credits. Most incarcerated fire crew members receive 2-for-1 credits, meaning they receive two additional days off their sentence for every one day they serve on a fire crew,” a website on the program says.

The House GOP Caucus released a statement on Thursday shortly before Hennepin County announced official charges in the case calling attention to “gaps in both Minnesota and California law that made it possible for Thompson to be driving despite a similar previous conviction.”

“House Republicans have been calling for tougher penalties to ensure criminals are held accountable,” the caucus said in a statement. “Thompson’s case clearly illustrates how California and Minnesota’s soft on crime policies are failing to make communities safer.”

In 2016, California voters overwhelmingly passed a ballot referendum, Proposition 57, which created an early prison release program that significantly shortened Thompson’s sentence, the press statement said.

The California early prison release program features some of the same elements that are included in the Minnesota Rehabilitation and Reinvestment Act that the DFL passed on party-line votes as part of a sweeping omnibus public safety and judiciary bill that moved through the House and the Senate in May. Gov. Tim Walz signed the legislation into law on May 18. The new program goes into effect on Aug. 1.

“No Republican voted for this bill,” a House GOP spokesperson wrote in the statement. “House Republicans attempted to limit the (legislation) to offenders who had committed non-violent crimes, but House Democrats rejected that effort.”

Earlier in the session, Republicans had released a memo listing their concerns over the legislation, contending that about 92 percent of the current prison population in Minnesota would be eligible for early release under the MRRA. But Democrats said that was just the point of the program.

“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,” said bill sponsor Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park during an April press conference on the legislation. “95 percent 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.”


Hank Long

Hank Long is a journalism and communications professional whose writing career includes coverage of the Minnesota legislature, city and county governments and the commercial real estate industry. Hank received his undergraduate degree at the University of Minnesota, where he studied journalism, and his law degree at the University of St. Thomas. The Minnesota native lives in the Twin Cities with his wife and four children. His dream is to be around when the Vikings win the Super Bowl.