State officials push for shortened sentences for some elderly inmates

A bill introduced in the state Legislature would allow elderly inmates to apply for shortened sentences if they show evidence of rehabilitation.
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Minnesota officials are looking to allow shortened prison sentences for some elderly inmates.

On Tuesday, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman and Ramsey County Attorney John Choi came out in support of a bill that would allow prosecutors in Minnesota to shorten sentences of elderly inmates who have worked to rehabilitate themselves.

The bill, introduced in the state Legislature by Rep. Kelly Moeller, DFL-Shoreview, would allow inmates to apply to the county attorney’s office that obtained their conviction to ask for a shortened sentence.

The county attorney would investigate whether the inmate has shown evidence of good prison behavior and rehabilitation, while a judge would ultimately decide if the prisoner can be released.

The victim or victim’s family would also have a chance to weigh in on an early release.

“I have long felt that we should have few, if any, inmates over 65 or 70,” Freeman said in a statement. “Sentences that may be appropriate when they were imposed are not appropriate today.”

Similar laws have been put into place in California and Washington state.

Ellison said the release of 83-year-old Joe Ligon in Pennsylvania this month is an example of why the bill is necessary. Ligon was convicted of 1st-degree murder when he was 15 in a case of fatal stabbings. Ligon was not the one who committed the stabbings, but he was with the group of people who did.

According to CNN, Ligon was the oldest and longest-serving prisoner with a juvenile life sentence in the U.S.

“I know there are some people who will say, ‘isn’t [every prisoner] going to ask?’" Ellison said in a statement.

“Maybe, but [prosecutors] don’t have to give it. It’s another tool in the toolbox and like all tools, we use it when it is appropriate. After three, four decades of harsher and harsher sentences, maybe it’s time for the ministers of justice to say it is time.” 

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