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Minnesota Racial Bias Task Force: 25 years later, did it work?

Twenty-five years ago, a task force found 87 things that could be done to address racial bias in the criminal justice system.

MINNEAPOLIS - Twenty-five years ago, the Minnesota court system took a long look in the mirror and decided it needed to get real with the issue of racial bias in the justice system.

A group of people in the system formed a task force and went and found 87 things that could be done to address it.

That racial bias task force is still in effect today, and Hennepin County Judge Pamela Alexander remains on it.

When Judge Alexander sat down to find the biases in 1993, she did so at a critical starting point that all of us need to keep in mind.

“We had legal segregation in this country until 1974, that was the year I graduated from college,” Alexander said Monday.

That matters for context about our laws and our justice system, as laws making us separate yet not equal still have lingering effects in our systems.

That is precisely why the Minnesota Racial Bias report was done 25 years ago.

Here are few things the judge and her peers found back then.

“A whole lot of people who were being arrested over the weekends and released on Monday and when we looked at who they did that to it was 95 percent African American,” Alexander said.

Investigators know a person booked into jail on a Friday would have no hope of release until Monday.

The fix the force made: Make jail review happen seven days a week, not five, 52 weeks a year so they could know if something was disproportionate and can find out why.

Language was also an issue in the courtrooms, with courtroom interpreters not being trained to understand the legal terms.

“We found a lot of court interpreters we had were not certified," Alexander said. "You have to be able to understand the legal language of the court in order to interpret that for someone else. We had interpreters that were not certified in there trying to just guess (what the legal terms translated to)."


The team found bail was being set considering terms that were racially biased.

Judge Alexander said bail was being set based on housing and employment status, not the main reason that should be considered, which was will a defendant come back to court.

“We found that people who are homeless came to court as often as people who had jobs, renters came as often as people who owned homes," she said. "Those other factors were not predictive, so those should not have been taken into consideration at all."

So all in all they found quite a bit 25 years ago that they worked tirelessly to correct to try and ensure justice for all, without bias.

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