Minnesota has a well-developed system built around protecting victims’ rights and prosecuting those accused of crimes. Unfortunately, the system is imperfect. The rights of many defendants are violated. Innocent people are put behind bars for crimes they did not commit. Minnesotans often give up their hopes, their dreams, and their freedoms when they become entangled in an unbalanced system that often fails to protect the rights of the accused.
Those who have fallen victim to racism, homophobia, anti-immigrant, and other maltreatment do not have to suffer these injustices or stand up for their civil liberties alone. A number of reputable organizations exist whose missions are to protect the rights of all members of the community.
ACLU of Minnesota
The ACLU of Minnesota values the civil rights of everyone in the community, in particular, those who have been historically deprived of their rightful liberties. The organization seeks to promote and defend the civil rights and liberties of Minnesotans through litigation, community engagement, and lobbying. The union selects, negotiates, and tries cases that have the potential to broaden the interpretation of the law, establish legal precedents, and strengthen the civil rights of all citizens. The ACLU also participates in the legislative process on matters with civil rights implications. It distributes educational materials and speaks with the public, educating everyday citizens on their civil liberties and mobilizing people to advocate for their rights and those of their neighbors.
Innocence Project of Minnesota
Representing those accused of crimes they did not commit, the Innocence Project of Minnesota is a non-partisan organization that works to improve the quality of justice in the state. The organization investigates claims of wrongful convictions and pursues justice on behalf of prisoners in Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota. The Innocence Project of Minnesota sends out more than 150 questionnaires each year to inmates who may have been falsely convicted, striving to change the criminal justice system’s unjust practices and procedures. Notably, the organization secured the release of five men who, due to their wrongful convictions, served a combined 84 years in prison.
Minnesota Prison Doula Project
The Minnesota Prison Doula Project (MnPDP) provides pregnancy and parenting support to parents serving time at the Minnesota Correctional Facility – Shakopee, as well as other correctional facilities throughout the state. The program’s mission is to foster healthy relationships and enhance parenting skills and confidence by providing doula care, group education, and one-on-one counseling. Giving incarcerated pregnant women access to trained birthing professionals, the MnPDP gives expectant mothers informational, emotional, and physical support. Program staff also hold parent-child contact visits within correctional facilities to allow parents the opportunity to practice their parenting skills and build and maintain relationships with their children.
Saint Paul Branch of the NAACP
The Saint Paul Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People works toward the eradication of racial discrimination and the advancement of equal educational, economic, political, and social rights of all people in St. Paul and the surrounding communities. The organization educates people regarding their civil rights and takes legal action to help them secure those liberties, in addition to pursuing the enactment and enforcement of laws aimed at securing civil liberties at the local, state and federal levels. The St. Paul NAACP also designs and implements educational campaigns and programs to inform the public about the negative impact of racial discrimination and to push toward its elimination.
Legal Rights Center
A community-driven nonprofit organization, the Legal Rights Center works to improve the justice system experience for adults and juveniles and to proactively address problems that prevent the involvement of communities of color in the justice system. Focusing on advocacy, restorative justice practices, and adult and juvenile criminal defense, the center runs two programs – the Youth: Education, Advocacy & Restorative Services program and the Community Defense Program. Striving to put youths at risk of permanent disengagement from the education system back on the right path, the Legal Rights Center’s youth services program uses educational family group counseling as an alternative for juvenile court. The Community Defense Program offers information and legal advice regarding criminal charges and criminal records programs. The organization also offers legal representation in criminal and juvenile court proceedings.
Advocating for Immigrants’ Rights
In addition to those advocating on behalf of civil liberties for all, there are organizations that focus specifically on the promotion of basic human rights standards for marginalized communities, including immigrants, refugees, ethnic and religious minorities, women, and children. The Advocates for Human Rights investigates and draws attention to human rights’ violations. The organization educates the community and provides legal representation to refugees seeking asylum and immigrants who have been detained. A grassroots, all-volunteer organization, the Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Committee (MIRAC) brings together the immigrant community and their allies to work toward legal status, an end to raids and deportations, and driver’s licenses for all of-age community members, whatever their immigration status.
Focus on Outreach and Education
Where some organizations pursue their advocacy through action, others focus on outreach and education. Groups educating the public on their civil rights and the importance of justice for all in the Minnesota area include the following:
· University of Minnesota Human Rights Program
· University of St. Thomas Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice
· Robina Institute of Criminal Law and Criminal Justice
· Common Cause
These organizations and educational programs work to bring legal education, theory, and policy together to incite changes in state and federal punishment practices. They foster cultural awareness and promote the exchange of ideas and discourse toward balancing the human rights standards in the Minnesota community, and the rest of the world.
Balancing the System
When they become entangled in the unbalanced justice system, Minnesotans may feel they have nowhere to turn. They sacrifice their freedoms, as well as their future hopes and dreams. Working to ensure equal access to their civil liberties for the whole community, including its marginalized members, civil rights organizations such as those discussed here pursue justice on behalf of the accused and others through education, outreach, and action.