Minnesota Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar defended her record as a former prosecutor on Sunday, while calling for further reform as she runs for president in a field widely supportive of taking on systemic racism in the justice system.
Asked Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union” about a Minnesota Public Radio report from her time as Hennepin County attorney that noted racial disparities in law enforcement, particularly against African-Americans, Klobuchar said she worked against the trend during her time in office.
“There was a 65% decrease in incarceration of African-Americans when you go from the beginning of my term to the end,” Klobuchar said.
After Klobuchar’s interview, her campaign clarified that the senator was referring to the jail population of African-Americans – not those in prisons – during her time as Hennepin County attorney. The campaign pointed to a database from the Vera Institute of Justice that showed a sharp decrease in the percentage of African-Americans in jail relative to their population in Hennepin County during her tenure, which backed up her 65% figure, while the same database showed the rate of decrease in the prison population of African-Americans over the same period was closer to 14%.
Jail refers generally to a facility where people are held ahead of trial or for short periods of time, while prison generally refers to a longer term or post-trial facility.
Klobuchar said to combat racism as county attorney she diversified her office, examined how they dealt with drug cases, increased “focus on white collar crime” and worked with the Innocence Project.
“I made this major effort because I truly believe that our mission is to convict the guilty, yes, but protect the innocent,” Klobuchar said. “And there has been racism in our system, and there still is.”
She added, however, that she could have done more.
“You can always do better,” Klobuchar said. “I can tell you. You learn in retrospect when you look back things you can do better.”
She also noted the overwhelming influence prosecutors outside of the federal system possess and suggested there should be incentives for local district attorneys to reduce drug sentences.
This story has been updated.