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New Probation Cap for MN Called Long Overdue

According to the latest data, Minnesota had nearly 100,000 people on probation, among the highest rates in the nation. (
According to the latest data, Minnesota had nearly 100,000 people on probation, among the highest rates in the nation. (
January 14, 2020

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Minnesota is on track to start capping probation sentences for most felony convictions at five years. It's a move advocates say is long overdue.

Last week, the state Sentencing Guidelines Commission voted to apply the five-year cap to most offenders convicted of a felony. Homicides and sexual assaults would be excluded. Unless the Legislature intervenes, the changes will go into effect in August.

University of Minnesota law professor Richard Frase recently testified in favor of the move. He said there's plenty of research that questions the effectiveness of lengthy probation sentences.

"There's a concentration of problems in the first couple of years of supervision, and then it tails off very dramatically after that," Frase said. "So by the time you get out to five years of probation, most offenders, if they're gonna fail, they've failed already."

Frase said for those who don't fail their probation but still have it hanging over their heads, it can be harder to get a job or a home. He said in turn, that can make it hard to stay law-abiding.

According to Bureau of Justice statistics, Minnesota has the fifth highest probation rate in the country. The agency also said Minnesota has the 5th lowest incarceration rate in the U.S.

But Frase said the state also has nearly nine times as many inmates as it did in the late 1970s. He said that makes it's reasonable to wonder if actual sentencing guidelines - not just probation - also deserve another look.

"Are we really, as a state, as a population, nine times more culpable and nine times more dangerous than people were in the '70s? I don't think so," he said. "So there's always room to ask, are we locking up people we don't need to lock up?"

As for the probation guidelines, judges still will have the authority to exceed the cap under special circumstances.

Mike Moen, Public News Service - MN