Morrison County Community Corrections Director Nicole Kern presented her 2021-22 comprehensive plan to the Morrison County Board at its year-end meeting, Dec. 31, 2020.
Included in the comprehensive plan was an update on probation cases in the county, along with some of her plans for the future based on current trends. The Board unanimously approved Kern’s request to submit the plan to the Minnesota Department of Corrections.
COVID-19 played a role in how Community Corrections was able to work with clients in 2020. Kern said her department was faced with the challenge of keeping not only the community safe, but also staff members and the clients themselves when dealing with mental health or chemical dependency issues.
“What happened is, we ended up teaming up our higher risk agents; the ones who are dealing with people out of prison, sex offenders, high-risk probation cases that tended to be more violent and then domestic abuse cases,” Kern said. “We teamed up people so that they would do home visits while standing in the yard, fully masked, the person would come out and they would talk to them.”
She said they also made extra phone contacts and handed out lists of online resources and 1-800 numbers that could help de-escalate situations for those who have impulse control issues.
In terms of overall probation cases, Morrison County has seen a slow and steady decline over the past decade, with 650 adult cases in 2011 compared to 600 in 2019. Kern said this could be attributed partly to more use of diversion, particularly in terms of drug court cases. In terms of felony cases on probation among adults, there were slightly more in 2019 than 2011, but also less than in 2015. Gross misdemeanor and misdemeanor cases on probation have both been on a downward trend since 2011.
Juveniles on probation numbers have remained relatively steady for all levels of severity; though the number of felony probation cases has dropped from 46 in 2011 and 48 in 2015 to 33 in 2019.
“One of the things that has happened that I’m very happy about is, the world of corrections has figured out that we don’t have to have a felony conviction on juveniles to be able to make a difference in their lives,” Kern said. “We do not have to saddle a 13-year-old with a felony. We can still make an impact with a lesser included charge or a stay of adjudication and work with them and not have them deal with a felony for the next 70-80 years.”
One trend Kern said she has seen coming, but was still “quite shocked” about ,was that Morrison County’s DWI and drug offense numbers are identical. She said DWI is typically the number one offense committed in counties. She believes ride sharing, taxis and general education about drinking and driving have all played a role in the drop of DWI cases. The caveat, however, is that there has been a rise in drug offenses in conjunction with the “rise of heroin and resurgence of methamphetamine,” Kern said.
Moving forward, Kern said one thing she and her staff are particularly excited about is using a program called “Tools on Devices” by the Carey Group. The program allows staff members to go into the program and find resources that can help clients in the midst of a crisis and send them directly to their smartphone.
“We can send those right to their phones, kind of like homework,” Kern said. “Then they fill it out and send it back to us, and at our next meeting we can talk about it.”
She said Community Corrections was able to purchase the program with funding from the CARES Act.
“I love it,” Kern said. “I’m very excited about this; the staff is very excited.”
She also expressed her gratitude and how proud she was of her staff for how they adjusted and maintained a high level of service despite the challenges of COVID-19.
Commissioner Greg Blaine asked Kern about the recidivism rate — the rate at which someone re-offends after they are off probation — in the county, in relation to some of the statistics she presented. She said recidivism is broken down by regions in Minnesota, meaning Morrison County’s numbers are included with those of four other counties. She said the only thing specific to Morrison County she could address was recidivism in regard to drug court.
“I can tell you that our drug court offenders have a very low recidivism rate,” Kern said. “I was kind of shocked, I think, the state at how low our recidivism numbers are.”
She said she is working with a person at the Department of Corrections to help break down the numbers specific to Morrison County.
“Nicole, I have to say kudos to you and your staff this past year through this pandemic and the challenges it brings to different departments in the county,” Blaine said. “You’ve kind of quietly — not kind of, you’ve quietly — been able to go forward and continue to provide the services to your clientele out there in a very effective manner; kind of without a peep. You’ve done an awesome job. We don’t see you very often, which tells me there’s a lot of good things happening over there.”
Board of Commissioners Briefs:
In other business Dec. 31, 2020, the Morrison County Board of Commissioners:
• Approved a contract with Mark Anderson for water inspections in the event Morrison County staff are unable;
• Approved 2021 food, liquor and lodging licenses for establishments within the county;
• Approved a change of authorized signers for Morrison County’s Business Now account at Pine Country Bank;
• Approved 2021 licenses for solid waste and recycling haulers as well as facility operations;
• Approved CARES Act funding transfers of: $48,229.36 to the Social Services Fund for payroll and other pandemic costs; $46,210.78 to the Road and Bridge Fund for payroll and other pandemic costs; and $26,033.12 to the Solid Waste Fund for pandemic-related costs;
• Approved 2020 year-end fund balances;
• Approved a change order of $28,875 to Holden Electric for LED lighting during the courthouse remodel project; and
• Extended Families First Coronavirus Response Act benefits — extra paid leave for reasons involving COVID-19 — until March 31, 2021, for county staff.
The next meeting of the Board of Commissioners is a planning session at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 12, in the Board Room at the Morrison County Government Center.