Beltrami County District Court
The Minnesota Judicial Branch’s Committee for Equality and Justice (CEJ) has played an important part in eliminating bias from court operations, promoting equal access to the court and increasing trust and public confidence in the state’s judiciary.
Beltrami County District Court Judge Shari Schluchter has played a key role in helping the CEJ — an ad hoc committee of the Minnesota Judicial Council — fulfill its mission by serving as its co-chair for six years before stepping down at the end of 2020.
“I was an at-large member of the Minnesota Judicial Council, so it was a natural fit for me to be part of CEJ,” said Schluchter. “That way I would have the benefit of attending Judicial Council meetings to help these two groups work together.”
In particular, Schluchter was a driving force in making sure that that Beltrami County examined its high rate of probation revocations, especially as they pertained to American Indians. That effort meant looking at one year of cases, analyzing the charges, determining the presiding judge, the probation officer, and looking at why the case resulted in a revocation to prison.
That led to working with the Department of Corrections to see how they can better meet the needs of American Indian probationers to enable them to be successful on probation.
The results? In 2017, Beltrami County had 113 probation revocations to prison. In 2019, only 47 revocations occurred. As of September 2020, only 21 revocations had occurred. Also, the disparity lessened in the rates in which American Indian probationers were revoked to prison as compared to other races.
The committee’s work has become a model for other judicial districts that are seeking to ensure that their probation revocations are done fairly and without racial bias.
“I’m proud of the work we’ve done,” said Schluchter. “A lot of passionate, focused people deserve the credit.”
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