Second chances in Minnesota: Voting rights, drug court

An advance for voting rights for felons who have served their time and good news about the effectiveness of Minnesota drug courts were in the news recently.

Voting rights – second chance

The Minnesota senate judiciary committee approved a bill granting voting rights to people convicted of a felony who have served their time, bringing “second chance” voting rights one step closer. The bill, which would allow people who are on parole after serving prison terms to vote, has support from both Democrats and Republicans. That’s one step forward — the bill still has several other hurdles to pass before becoming law.

Current Minnesota law strips voting rights from people who are on parole or probation after being convicted of felonies. The proposed change would not affect voting rights for people on probation after felony convictions. According to the Minnesota Second Chance Coalition,

“Since 1974, the number of individuals disenfranchised as a result of a felony conviction has increased 500%, making Minnesota the fourth highest in the number of individuals per capita who are under community supervision (probation or supervised release).”

The disenfranchisement has a disproportionate effect on African American and Native American men, according to the Coalition:

“In 2007, the number of individuals disenfranchised as a result of felony conviction was 1.7 percent of the state’s total voting-age population, but 10 percent of African Americans and 6.5 percent of American Indians of voting age were disenfranchised. Almost 17 percent (nearly 1 in 5) of otherwise eligible voting-age African American males in Minnesota were disenfranchised in 2007.”

Drug court study

The continuing study of Minnesota drug courts showed that participants in drug courts had a lower recidivism rate, served less time behind bars, and cost the state less than a control group of other felony offenders convicted and sentenced in traditional courts. Minnesota drug courts were launched in 2007, and emphasize longer-term treatment for addiction aimed at interrupting the cycle of recidivism. The study released in February is a follow-up to a 2012 longitudinal study. According to the Minnesota standards for drug courts:

“Drug courts promote recovery through a coordinated response to participants who are dependent on alcohol and other drugs (AOD). A team approach is required, including the collaboration of judges, drug court coordinators, prosecutors, defense counsel, probation authorities, law enforcement, treatment providers, and evaluators. Drug courts employ a multi-phased treatment process. The goal of drug courts is to engage individuals in treatment long enough to experience the benefits of treatment in order to end the cycle of recidivism and successfully intervene on the addiction.”

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