Minnesota lawmakers push to change the way parole decisions are made

Lawmakers in Minnesota's House of Representatives insist they'll continue to push for changes in the way parole decisions are made for those serving life-sentences.

Currently, the Corrections Commissioner has the ultimate say. But, there's a movement to use a five-member parole board to make the sometimes controversial call to release an inmate with a violent past.

The case of Ronald Reed, who killed a police officer, was brought front and center at Department of Corrections Headquarters.

In 2006, Reed was convicted of first degree murder in the sniper-style shooting of St. Paul Police Officer James Sackett, who was lured to the scene in the Selby-Dale neighborhood some 36 years earlier on a fake report of a woman in labor.

The Sackett case had gone unsolved for decades, and the jury’s verdict was a huge relief for a department that never gave up its quest for justice. But, because Ronald Reed was sentenced to life in prison under 1970-era laws in Minnesota, there’s no guarantee he will remain locked up. In fact, Reed will be eligible for parole in January of 2022.

Monday, Corrections Commissioner Paul Schnell held what’s known as a preliminary life sentence review hearing, meeting with the victim’s loved ones and then video conferencing with Reed, who is currently housed at the prison in Rush City.

Earlier this month in an interview with FOX 9, Schnell detailed in general terms what he wants to hear from inmates going through the parole process, “The conversations can get very deep – ‘describe what happened, describe what your sense of what you did today is, what do you think about the impact of your crime on people?’” 

Ultimately, the parole decision will be in the hands of Schnell or whoever is in his commissioner role in a couple of years - something Schnell insists is almost unfair, to have one person making such a huge decision. He said he supports legislation on a five-member parole board that passed the House this year.

Rep. John Lesch, (DFL) St. Paul promised to reintroduce the five-member parole board legislation next session in hopes the State Senate will ultimately sign off on the bill and make it law.

"It’s a no-brainer," said Rep. Lesch, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee. "Anytime these issues that are legal about what should happen where you have to weigh a number of factors, once you hand them over completely to one political appointee or one elected, eventually they get bogged down in politics, and it’s bad for the entire system."

The Sackett family denied FOX 9's request for comment.