Press Release: Sheriff’s study demonstrates the criminal justice system disproportionately afflicts the working poor

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hennepin county sherriffs office

Press Release


Media Contact: Jon Collins, 612-919-5918

Sheriff’s study demonstrates the criminal justice system disproportionately afflicts the working poor

January 4, 2018 (MINNEAPOLIS) – The Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office released the results of a One-Day Snapshot Study, confirming that the poorest of our society are unduly affected by incarceration.

During the One-Day Snapshot Study, the Sheriff's Office asked jail inmates in custody on August 25, 2018 to voluntarily participate in a survey about their socioeconomic background. Of the 692 inmates, 643 responded to the questionnaire resulting in a 92.9 percent participation rate.

The study shed important insight into the human and social cost of unnecessary incarceration and misuse of jails on both arrestees and their wider network.

  1. The majority of Hennepin County jail inmates earn less than one-third of their fellow Minnesota residents.
  2. 88 percent cannot pay their court-ordered bail. 45 percent could not pay their court-ordered bail for at least one other previous arrest.
  3. 71 percent are in jail for a non-violent charge.
  4. Inmates collectively had 1,000 children under the age of 18 that are affected by their parent's incarceration.
  5. 520 out of the 643 had a disruption to their employment. Many of inmates are working in the service industry.
  6. 57% live in unstable housing.

“I hope we can all agree, that there should be no criminal penalties for being poor. The study released today should be of great concern as it demonstrates the socioeconomic disparities among arrestees in the Hennepin County Criminal Justice system,” said Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek. “As Sheriff I continue to maintain that violent offenders belong in jail, but in our One-Day Snapshot Study conducted on August 25, 2018, 490 of the 643 inmates that participated in the study were being held on non-violent charges--at great consequence to them individually and to their families. As I leave office I am hopeful that Hennepin County residents, our criminal justice partners, and county leaders will take this study to heart and seriously undertake initiatives for reform, some of which are discussed in the Study.”

During the review of the study results, Sheriff Stanek was joined by Ronal Serpas, Founding Chairman of the Law Enforcement Leaders.

“Overall, this is a fascinating and very valuable contribution to the current and necessary criminal justice debate because it is real data in a real jail in real time. More and more cities/counties are recognizing that, as is the case here, significant percentages of those held in jails are not a threat to the public and are being housed at an incredible cost. This study demonstrates this well and will be a valuable launching pad for a lot of critical thinking needed on this topic,” said Dr. Serpas.

Criminal justice reform in the United States has been a topic of discussion for years. States are increasingly taking strides to reform the criminal justice system.

“This is the third of our One-Day Snapshot Studies: “The incidence of Mental Illness among Jail Inmates” (2016), “The Incidence of Opioid Addiction among Jail Inmates” (2017), and now the “The Hennepin County Criminal Justice System Disproportionately Afflicts the Working Poor” (2018). We have shared the findings to prompt a greater awareness, and to inform meaningful and much-needed change,” said Sheriff Stanek.

This data can inform the Sheriff’s Office, its criminal justice partners, and the public on the social and human cost of jail on the individual, and make recommendations on areas that should see improvement to alleviate the systemic burdens on our poorest residents. 

The socioeconomic data collected and summarized here is all self-reported. Additionally, jail records were not collected from correctional facilities outside of the Hennepin County Jail. Bail information was provided by both the jail and the Fourth Judicial Court.

A digital copy of the report can be viewed here.

- HCSO -

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