- MN Justice Research Center
Building the Justice for All Coalition
By Ta’Mara Hill, MNJRC Policy Director
Minnesota is no stranger to difficult conversations about race or public safety. We’ve come a long way. It wasn’t long ago that speaking of such issues was considered inappropriate or polarizing in many communities. Though still polarizing for some, now we see these issues as a place to collaborate and unite. However, often these vital conversations still happen in silos; they take place behind the closed doors of legislative offices, in the conference rooms of nonprofits, in the sanctuaries of churches, and between parents and children at the dinner table.
At the Minnesota Justice Research Center (MNJRC), one of our goals is to bridge the spaces where these conversations are happening. We seek to connect the vast diversity of communities in Minnesota with key actors and stakeholders in our state’s criminal legal system. At the MNJRC, we believe that the melding of these conversations, with community at the center, is necessary to transform the criminal legal system. We do this work through policy, education and engagement, and research on various public safety issues. For example, we brought siloed conversations together to shape the Consent Decree between the Minnesota Department of Human Rights and the Minneapolis Police Department. We examined how different communities view accountability in policing, highlighting the unexplored policy power of the MN POST Board. And every year, we hold an annual Re-Imagining Justice Conference to highlight the critical research and practice happening across our state and the country and create opportunities for collaboration.
On April 17th, 2023, we announced the Justice for All Coalition (JFAC) - a critical step in our work to bridge ideas and perspectives on public safety to the legislative arena. We launched the JFAC in January 2023, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, through a legislative preview event held at Sabathani Community Center (also home to the new MNJRC office space!). We are grateful to the elected/appointed leaders who were engaged with the work of JFAC from the beginning, and participated as panelists during the MLK Legislative Preview: Vice-Chair of the Senate Judiciary & Public Safety Committee Sen. Clare Oumou Verbeten, Chair of the House Public Safety & Finance Committee Rep. Kelly Moller, Rep. Paul Novotny, and Commissioner of the MN Dep. of Corrections Paul Schnell.
The JFAC includes over 40 organizations and community leaders who are invested and passionate about innovative solutions and changes to public safety in Minnesota. This includes survivors advocates, faith-based organizations, legal practitioners, scholars, community-based organizations, nonprofit leaders, and former legislators. Despite the different perspectives and priorities that people come to the coalition with, all members believe that public safety in Minnesota can be improved and that the transformation of the criminal legal system is critical to the future of our state and the rest of the country. Over the next year, there will be a focus on diversifying this coalition even more.
The coalition has been active at the state legislature, providing research, narrative, and insight to legislators, concerning 15 key pieces of legislation. In the first year, JFAC has seen success with the passage and signing of Restore the Vote; legislation that restored voting rights to over 55,000 Minnesotans. JFAC also held a variety of events/conversations this year, bringing together decision makers, survivor advocates, families, those who have caused harm, academics, advocates, and more. At the legislature, the coalition has had the opportunity to connect with elected officials as well. These meetings have included the DFL POCI Caucus and GOP Members. We are grateful to Rep. Walter Hudson and Rep. Paul Novotny for taking the time to meet with JFAC; and to the POCI Caucus member and Vice-Chair of the House Public Safety & Finance Committee Rep. Cedrick Frazier for authoring and prioritizing many of the bills the JFAC has identified as priorities.
Finally, the most recent success of the coalition was having a conversation with Governor Tim Walz and Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan in late April. Both the Governor and the Lt. Governor were interested and excited to hear about the work the coalition has done so far, and the work to come. JFAC members are grateful for the leadership of the Governor’s office, their willingness to hear from advocates, and the signing of the Restore the Vote legislation.
MNJRC - as a nonpartisan, non-lobbying, community-based organization - serves as the JFAC’s covener, facilitator, and home-base. We provide a space for leaders to dream, collaborate, strategize, and find empowerment. As the Policy Director of MNJRC, I am excited for the work this coalition will continue to do under the leadership of former House Representative and Chair of the JFAC, Carlos Mariani. I’m most excited for the hope and change it will inspire as we fight for a legal system that is fair, equitable, accountable, and restorative in delivering justice.
If the JFAC interests you, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also stay up to date on any of the JFAC priorities. The best ways to do this are:
Subscribe to the MNJRC newsletter (sign up on our homepage https://www.mnjrc.org/)
Use the MyBills tool to track legislation you’re interested in
Take a look at the 2023 Omnibus side-by-sides that are currently being debated and finalized in Conference Committees
The transformation of the legal system is closer than ever before. The more we work together to demand unity, accountability, and action, the closer we’ll get.