In addition to their ability to send criminals to prison, Minnesota prosecutors will soon be able to seek their release.

It's called prosecutor-initiated resentencing, and Minnesota will become one of a handful of states offering it when the law takes effect Aug. 1.

Ramsey County Attorney John Choi and Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty both pushed for the change. "We should care about people who no longer need to be in prison who don't pose a public safety risk," Choi said.

Until now, a Minnesota prisoner's only means of resentencing was to prove that an error had occurred with the original term. "There is just no mechanism right now to take a look at someone who's been in prison a period of time to see whether they really need to be there anymore," Moriarty said.

Inmates in many other states appear regularly before parole boards that assess whether they can be released. But Minnesota prisoners have long had defined sentences; they know their exit dates when they arrive.

The change is one of many the DFL-controlled Legislature and Gov. Tim Walz made to the prison system in the recent session. Inmates can now make free phone calls to friends and family and work toward earlier release through the Minnesota Rehabilitation and Reinvestment Act, which pushes them toward therapy and education.

"We're offering a carrot rather than a stick to give people a reason to comply and improve their lives and get the treatment they need," said state Rep. Kelly Moller, DFL-Vadnais Heights.

Choi said he initially was intrigued by the prosecutor-initiated resentencing when he heard a speech by Hillary Blout, founder and executive director of the nonprofit For the People.

The group's position is that many prisoners can be safely released because their sentence was overly harsh, stemmed from outdated policies or they've been rehabilitated.

"I really believe that hindsight can help us improve the quality of justice," Choi said last week.

Sen. Clare Oumou Verbeten, DFL-Roseville and a co-sponsor of the bill, said the path is now clear to revisit sentences. "What is this person doing now with their life? What does the victim think about this? What has to happen to be restored and heal?" she asked.

The prosecutor-initiated resentencing option is voluntary, but that was a concern. The Minnesota County Attorneys Association proposed a resentencing pilot project in the seven Twin Cities metro counties rather than a statewide change across 87 counties.

The bill had strong support from the bipartisan Justice Action Coalition as well as Violence Free Minnesota, a coalition to end relationship abuse, and MNCASA, the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault. The latter two provided a written statement to legislators.

"In our work we see how victims are forced to steal, participate in group crimes, take responsibility for an abuser's crime, or commit a crime against their abuser," the statement said.

It's going to be a few months before the prosecutors seek resentencings. Both Moriarty and Choi say they're setting up the administrative structure and process.

Moriarty said she expects to initially look at classifications of cases, not individuals. A longtime public defender before she was elected prosecutor last November, Moriarty said she would not seek new sentences for inmates she defended.

"It's really important that it's an independent process with integrity so that if people are the beneficiaries of one of these new sentences people will trust it was the right decision," she said.

She and Choi emphasized that victim support will be critical. "I've heard from many people in prison who do wish for an opportunity to apologize and make amends," Choi said.

The two also said a judge provides the ultimate check on the authority. "I can make the decision to start the process, but at the end of the day, the judge will make the final decision," Choi said.

Choi's office provided the Legislature with statistics of possible target groups for resentencing, including 183 inmates over the age of 65. Of those, 27 are in prison for nonviolent crimes.

Choi said prosecutors must reward rehabilitation.

"If we truly want to be ministers of justice — and we do have some responsibility to ensure the quality of justice in our communities — we have to take on this role," he said.