Beltrami County May End Sentence To Service Program
A program to help non-violent offenders work off part of their jail sentences or fines might be scrapped due to declining participation and increasing expenses.
The Beltrami County Board of Commissioners was given an update of the Sentence to Service program today during its regular work session meeting. The update comes as the county considers renewing a bi-annual contract with the Minnesota Department of Corrections initiative.
STS reached its peak in 2013, when inmates and parolees completed 16,988 hours of work, according to a presentation given to the board by a DOC representative. This included jobs for Beltrami county, the city of Bemidji, Department of Natural Resources, federal agencies, non-profits, the state of Minnesota and various townships.
Since its peak, the program has drastically dropped the amount of hours worked by crews, which are now manned by half the amount of people. According to the Department, since the beginning of January, only 1,347 hours have been completed through the end of March. If continued at this rate, the program would log less than half of the hours completed in 2016. However, the representative noted that they could see drop-off in numbers like last year when no one showed up for the program for weeks in August, furthering the gap.
The Department of Corrections says that this is due to changes in the amount of eligible offenders in the jail, offenders being moved to other counties and changes in jail time statutes, among other changes to the population pool. This then lowers the average size of the work crew sent out each day.
Another issue the program has encountered is the sharp increase in inmates or parolees not showing up for their work days. Since its start in 2011, there were more successful completions over unsuccessful discharges from the program. This changed in 2016, when 156 people received unsuccessful discharges, mostly because they didn’t show up, over the 102 people who did complete their time.
Trisha Hanson, the regional supervisor for the Department of Corrections, said that it would be up to the board to decide to keep or scrap the program. For the 2016 and 2017 fiscal years, the county paid $120,513 in total. The board noted that it could use this money to insure the jobs were done by other people in the community that needed the opportunity.
The main supervisor for the program is retiring this summer, which would coincide with when the two-year contract ends. While many board members were supportive of ending the program, a final decision wouldn’t be made until the end of may.
Beltrami County Attorney Annie Claesson-Huseby says there are other opportunities for offenders to work off their sentences in jail should the program end.