Dr. Yohuru Williams, founding director of the Racial Justice Initiative (RJI) at the University of St. Thomas, is one of 15 leaders from across Minnesota recently named to the Governor’s Council on Justice Reinvestment.
This bipartisan effort, convened by Gov. Tim Walz, is aimed at reducing recidivism (chance for re-offenses) of people on probation and supervised release (similar to parole) in an effort to improve community safety across all 87 counties in the state of Minnesota.
“The work of reimagining public safety is incredibly important,” said Williams. “I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to that reimagination as a part of this council.”
There’s a lot for the council members to consider. Minnesota has the nation’s fifth-highest rate of people on probation, with two in every 100 adults in the state on probation as of 2018, according to Minnesota state data in the announcement naming the council members.
“Because more than 60 percent of prison admissions are due to supervision revocations, state leaders question the efficacy of the state’s current criminal justice investments and desire additional transparency and accountability for state funds dedicated to supervision,” according to Walz’s office.
Additionally, the state’s probation system has become increasingly inequitable. In 2019, the rate of Black adults on felony probation was nearly five times higher than the rate of white people on felony probation. For Native Americans, this rate was more than nine times higher than for white people, and the rate is 1.7 times higher for Latinx people. The state is also in need of additional resources to adequately support the high number of people with mental illnesses and substance use disorders in the criminal justice system.
The council’s work is in line with the mission of the Racial Justice Initiative. RJI works collaboratively with individuals and organizations already engaged in the essential work of helping to reimagine a future for the Twin Cities free from racial disparities. Williams, who also is a Distinguished University Chair and professor of history, supports the initiative by engaging in racial justice education, research, community partnerships, and encouraging dialogue and critical conversations.
“Dr. Williams will be a very valuable member of this council,” St. Thomas President Julie Sullivan said. “His voice will be so important to developing and recommending fair policy options aimed at strengthening public safety and improving community safety across Minnesota.”
Also, St. Thomas alumnus Paul Schnell ’88 is serving on the council. He earned his bachelor's degree in social work and is currently commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Corrections.
Overall, the Governor’s Council on Justice Reinvestment is composed of bipartisan representatives from all three branches of government, county leadership, a representative of tribes in Minnesota, and key criminal justice stakeholders from both Greater Minnesota and the Twin Cities metropolitan area.
“To keep Minnesota a great place for kids to grow up, we need safe neighborhoods and communities,” said Walz. “For that to happen, we must deal with crime and violence in ways that are grounded in data and research, not politics.”
The council members are charged with building “data-driven policies that will make Minnesota’s criminal justice system more effective, fair, and equitable,” Walz said.
This project is part of the federally funded Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI) and aims to reduce corrections and related criminal justice spending, and reinvest those savings in strategies that can decrease crime and reduce recidivism.
“The Justice Reinvestment Initiative demonstrates Minnesota’s commitment to following the data and investing in what works to support individuals after incarceration, build strong communities, and keep families whole,” said Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan. “This is not only good stewardship of taxpayer dollars, but also an investment in our ability to support Minnesotans in the criminal justice system and ensure they do not fall through the cracks.”