Probation is a common sentence in drug cases and other criminal cases here in Minnesota. The state has one of the nation’s highest probation rates.

Probation is sometimes given as an alternative to jail time. However, it is important to not dismiss this type of sentence as not a big deal. It can have significant impacts on a person’s life. There are many restrictions that go along with a probation sentence. They can have ramifications on many things, from where a person can live to what kind of traveling he or she can do.

So, how long a probation sentence is matters a great deal. As a recent Star Tribune article notes, there are significant disparities in probation length here in Minnesota.

For one, length can vary considerably based on where a person lives. A crime that would yield a probation sentence of decades in one municipality might only yield a fraction of that sentence in another.

One thing that is pointed to as contributing to these major disparities is a lack of uniform guidelines on probation in the state.

How greatly probation length can vary based on location here in Minnesota raises significant questions about fairness and how efficiently law enforcement resources are being used.

Recently, legislation has been proposed in the state aimed at reducing probation disparities. One proposal calls for statewide sentencing recommendations to be put in place regarding probation. Another would make it so probation sentences could be no longer than five years. It’ll be worth watching what happens with these bills this year.

What do you think of these proposals? Do you think they would lead to fairer sentencing? What would you most like to see done regarding the issue of probation disparities here in Minnesota?