No delay for Minnesota probation reform hearing

People meeting around a table
A divided Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines will proceed with a public hearing next week on a proposal to cap felony probation.
Tim Pugmire | MPR News

The Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission will proceed with a public hearing next week on a proposed five-year probation cap, despite significant concern among members about the plan.

The commission voted 6-5 Wednesday to reject a motion to indefinitely delay next Thursday’s hearing.

Department of Corrections Commissioner Paul Schnell, who originally advanced the proposal, said the panel has a duty to move forward with the hearing and gather public advice.

“We have to start by giving people a voice, when we know, when the data is crystal clear that on a day-to-day basis depending upon where you live is going to determine oftentimes what your term of probation is going to be,” Schnell said. “That’s simply not OK.”

But other members of the commission wanted more time. Christopher Dietzen, who brought the motion to delay, argued that the proposal was being rushed through with insufficient input from judges and other key stakeholders.

Dietzen, a retired Minnesota Supreme Court associate justice, said he is not opposed to some type of probation reform. But he raised concerns about the proposed five-year cap.

“I think a probation cap in general is a blunt instrument. It’s a one-size-fits-all. I think we need to have judicial discretion to have a tailor-made probation term for each individual offender.”

Commission member and Minnesota Court of Appeals Judge Michelle Larkin also favored a delay. Larkin warned that a five-year cap would tie the hands of judges in sentencing. She said they often use longer probation periods to keep people out of prison.

“If they’re stuck with a five-year cap, they’re not going to do that. People are going to go to prison,” Larkin said.

Tonja Honsey, a public member of the commission, voted to proceed with the hearing. She said too many people are suffering under the current probation system.

“Try sitting for 40 years on probation. Try sitting 25 years on probation,” Honsey said.

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