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Color of Justice Issues and Answers Forum: An MPR Civic Journalism Initiative Citizens' Event
Live from the Sabathani Center in Minneapolis
Minnesota Public Radio's Midday with host Gary Eichten
Wednesday, November 14, 2001
Click for audio Listen to the forum

An overview | Accountability in the justice system | American Indians and the rural justice system | The new disparities | Driving while black

Color of Justice: Is There Racial Bias in the Minnesota Criminal Justice System? On June 14, 2001, MPR's Civic Journalism Initiative produced a live radio summit to ask "Is there racial bias in the Minnesota criminal justice system?" Some 80 Minnesotans from academic, legal, and citizens groups met to seek action steps to confront biases identified by summit participants. Listen now to the summit panel and participant discussion and the summit's keynote address.

Read and download the 24-page final report from the summit: Is There Racial Bias in the Minnesota Criminal Justice System? (PDF | Adobe Reader needed)

(Photo courtesy of the office of public defender)

Raw statistics make it clear that racial disparities exist in the justice system in Minnesota. A person of color in Minnesota is 21 times more likely to end up in prison than a white person. That is the biggest difference in the nation. In 1999, over half of all African-American males in Hennepin County between the ages of 18 and 30 were arrested in 1999.

Add to that the fact that blacks are far more likely to be stopped and searched than whites, and more likely to get a harsher sentence for the same crime, and the raw statistics seem to tell a pretty disturbing story, one where the civil rights of individuals are being violated and community respect for the criminal justice system is being undermined.

What is less clear is why there is such a disparity and what, if anything, should be done about it.

As part of the Color of Justice project, Minnesota Public Radio's Civic Journalism Initiative brought together 40 citizens from communities most affected by this disparity to talk among themselves and formulate a series of questions for the panel of officials that joined us.


Legislators: Sen. Jane Ranum, DFL-Minneapolis, the chair of the Minnesota Senate Crime Prevention Committee and Rep. Rich Stanek, R-Maple Grove, the chair of the Minnesota House Judiciary Finance Committee. Sen. Ranum is on leave from her job as a Hennepin County prosecutor. Rep. Stanek is a Minneapolis police inspector. Both sponsored racial profiling legislation at the Capitol in the 2001 session.

Law Enforcement: St. Paul Police Chief Bill Finney. Hennepin County District Court Judge Tanya Bransford, a member of the committee charged with implementing the recommendations of the Minnesota Supreme Court's Task Force on Racial Bias. Hennepin County Public Defender Leonardo Castro, Minnesota Department of Corrections Commissioner Sheryl Ramstad-Hvass.