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July 5, 2020

6/25/2020 2:53:00 PM
'Community corrections' fails on 2-3 board vote

On a split vote last week, the county commissioners  derailed a proposal to shift all probation services to a “community correction” model, and move away from the state’s  services.  For at least two more years the Dept. of Corrections unit on mainstreet Center City will continue in its role.  

The choice of probation method had to be decided before this July, which starts the state’s new fiscal year, of a two-year budget cycle.  If existing state’s agents were going to move over and become the county’s responsibility, for budgeting purposes the state needed to be informed by end of this month.

The option for the county to do all of its own offender case supervision was made an option for larger populated areas through  the “Community Corrections Act”

The request came forward last winter.  The vote was tabled.  The CCA option was scheduled to have gone before the County Board again in February, but coronavirus shutdown hurdles complicated review.

Amy Chavez, Chisago County Probation Director, sought the switch. Going with CCA carries benefits like more local control, revenues remain in the county bank account, the option creates more predictable budgeting, and there is consistency of supervision in not having two agencies going in and out of offenders’ lives.  

There is supposed to be a probation services state cost-sharing aid formula, said Chavez, but it historically is less than the 50 percent of what it should be.

Chavez said her intent is not to increase county taxpayers’ costs, adding she has always brought her department in under-budget. “This is the best option for the county,” she stated.

A list of officials who support the switch to CCA was included in the meeting information;  the sheriff, judges and chiefs of police here support CCA.  The County Attorney, Chavez explained, prefers to stay neutral on this Board policy decision.
Commissioner Mike Robinson said there must be reasons that so many officials are on the list and said the list helped to sway him to support Community Corrections Act implementation.

The MN Dept. of Corrections doesn’t advocate either for their services or to oppose enacting the option for CCA, the Board heard. The DOC will support either probation method.

State employees (it was estimated for last week’s cost analysis there’d be six and a half state employees  involved) have options in state law to either go to work for the county, if there is a shift, or they can bump another state worker within a certain proximity, or take a lay-off.

The motion by Commissioner Robinson  to have supervised offenders that are now monitored by Dept. of Corrections probation agents move to  county probation, was denied with Robinson and DuBose in favor, McMahon, Greene and Montzka opposed dropping the state program.

CCA allows for counties with populations 30,000 and greater, to move the entire adult and juvenile probation caseload under local probation.Probation agents make sure monitoring takes place and maintain contact with the subject.  
Chisago county agents supervise pre-trial felony adult cases, but once disposition has been ordered the state will get the case.  Using just county agents would allow more continuity in case oversight, the Board heard.

Almost immediately after the motion to adopt CCA had failed, the Board started discussing a task force to review the issue.  Commissioner George McMahon suggested maybe if there was a deeper review assigned to a subcommittee new information might arise.

Comment during the agenda’s public microphone slot last winter, and again last week, revolved around accurate numbers not being presented. Opposition comments were that the county  board  is only hearing what county probation officials want it to hear.

Commissioner Robinson agreed with Chavez’s statement that actual costs won’t be apparent until the number of agents participating and their wage levels and equipping them is known.  This can’t be known until the switch occurs.

He said a committee isn’t going to nail down any better cost projections than what  is known now.
The discussion, however, was moot because cutting services through the state had an absolute  deadline for action of this month.

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