Faith Leaders Ask, What is Justice?

The Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission (MSGC) is considering modifying policies regarding the application of Criminal History Scores. MSGC has invited public stakeholders to offer comments at its meeting on Thursday, September 13.

Research indicates that Criminal History Scores play a key role in driving racial disparities in incarceration and longer sentences. New research shows that some aspects of the Criminal History Scores, namely the Custody Status Point, offer no predictive value in determining risk of repeat offenses. The MSGC is considering eliminating or modifying the application of Custody Status Points. ISAIAH supports their elimination as a common sense reform.

However, in response to pressure from a victims’ group, the MSGC is also considering increasing penalties for repeat offenses in a broad category labeled as “violent” offenses. This would increase prison sentences for some people and would disproportionately impact African Americans, who are already vastly overrepresented in Minnesota prisons.

“We lament injustice everywhere. Our hearts go out to those who have experienced violence and loss,” said Rev. Eliot Howard, Pastor of Linden Hills United Church of Christ in Minneapolis. “Of our policymakers, we ask: What is the purpose of justice? Is it to offer a path to healing? Or just to punish? Rehabilitation, redemption and restoration should be the goals. If we give in to our strong urges for revenge and retribution, will we create wholeness? Or continue the cycle of pain?”

Brian Fullman, ISAIAH organizer who has personally experienced incarceration, said, “Once you label a person a violent offender, you cut off part of their humanity. No one should be defined by their worst act. People need to see that they can change. If prison hasn’t gotten them on a better path, all we’re doing is teaching people how to be tougher criminals. There’s no justice and no redemption there.”

Rev. Howard and Mr. Fullman will be sharing their remarks at the MSGC meeting on Thursday September 13, at 1:30pm at the State Capitol, Room G-3.

ISAIAH is a statewide organization working for racial and economic justice. ISAIAH has worked to reverse mass incarceration in Minnesota for over five years. Among other things, this work has included efforts to end the school to prison pipeline, reform juvenile justice, modify sentencing laws, reduce recidivism and shine a light on the power of prosecutors in driving incarceration rates.