It started with a friendship between Judge Neil Riley and inmate Ted Herman. Riley, a corporate lawyer who became a Hennepin County judge, had been visiting Herman, when he began to truly understand that the prison system was just a revolving door. Inmates would be released, only to be back inside again within weeks. During those conversations in the prison visiting room, Riley and Herman designed a program that was striking in its simplicity: connect volunteers from the community with inmates in hopes of building positive and lasting friendships.
In 1967, Amicus was incorporated as a 501(c)(3) organization. Beginning its work with misdemeanants at the Hennepin County Workhouse, the program changed its focus to the Minnesota Correctional Facility (MCF) – Stillwater in 1968 and began working solely with felons. Through the ONE-TO-ONE program, Amicus has matched volunteers to inmates since 1968, beginning at Stillwater and expanding to the prisons at Shakopee, Lino Lakes, and Oak Park Heights. Amicus officially began providing transitional referral services for housing, employment and other needs in 1988, with the founding of RECONNECT.
In 1995, Amicus formed a relationship with the Minneapolis Urban League to address the changing needs of African-American inmates, especially as they were released back to the community. The RAFIKI family of programs emerged from that partnership. RAFIKI recruited African-American volunteers to visit inmates. In 1997, two new transitional programs, MEN OF RAFIKI and SISTERS HELPING SISTERS, were begun to assist African-American inmates in their goal to rejoin society as positive, connected members of their communities.
In 1998, a transitional program for serious and chronic male juvenile offenders being released from MCF-Red Wing using restorative justice principles was launched. A new restorative justice-based program for female juvenile offenders was implemented in 2000. Restorative justice seeks balance and healing between the legitimate needs of the victim, the offender, and the community and promotes problem-solving for the future rather than simply assigning blame for the past. Amicus incorporates these principles into all of our programs, whenever possible.
In the fall of 2000, a pilot program was begun at MCF-Oak Park Heights to help humanize the segregation (“Seg”) unit where inmates can spend many months and even years with little-to-no outside contact. Veteran ONE-TO-ONE volunteers make regular visits to Seg, visiting with several inmates for a few minutes each through their cell doors. Administration and line staff report significant improvements in these inmates’ behavior and urge us to find more volunteers.
Amicus founded its RADIUS program in the year 2000. Radius works with girls ages 12-18 who have become involved in the juvenile justice system. As of 2013, it serves about 90 girls per year referred to Amicus through Hennepin County Juvenile Probation.
In April of 2013, Amicus merged with Volunteers of America-MN. The purpose of the merger is to create a greater reach to help people gain self-reliance, dignity and hope. Through their mutual values of compassion and respect, Amicus and VOA-MN will strengthen quality services for adult prisoners, ex-offenders, and youth with high needs.
“I view it as a win-win situation,” said Paul H. Anderson, associate justice of the Supreme Court of Minnesota, and a member of the Amicus Board of Directors. “Amicus has developed a distinguished legacy of service to prisoners and to those reentering society after a prison sentence. This pairing with Volunteers of America Minnesota is the best way to ensure that legacy will remain intact for many years to come. I look forward to these organizations carrying on the work of instilling hope and transforming lives.”