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CROW WING COUNTY BOARD: Reduction of STS crew causes angst

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Brainerd Dispatch
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Brainerd MN 506 James St. / PO Box 974 56401

Reducing the Sentencing to Service from two work crews to one is causing no small amount of angst. 

Those were the words of Crow Wing County Commissioner Rachel Reabe Nystrom Tuesday.  Nystrom said it was important to include the why in the record.

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“They cannot understand why,” Nystrom said of some people’s reaction to cutting one STS crew. 

“It’s been a frustrating time for us,” said Sheriff Todd Dahl. 

Sentencing to Service puts low-risk offenders to work, such as community cleanup projects, and lets them work off jail time. 

Dahl said four to five years ago the county was looking at increasing to three STS crews. 

One of the unexpected results during the Great Recession was a reduction, statewide, in jail population. Funding has been a perennial issue in recent years. 

Dahl said the county just doesn’t have the numbers. 

“The drop in the inmates, the drop in everything else, the use for the STS crews has gone down,” Dahl said. “State funding for the STS crews has diminished or almost gone away.

“We can’t fund it. It had been very frustrating. It’s been very hard, definitely for the captain and I.”

Capt. Jerry Negen, jail administrator, said having open jail beds is not unique here but is being experienced throughout the state. 

Board Chairman Paul Thiede questioned whether the nonprofit organizations in the area realize what they are getting by having access to the STS crews for work and whether there is a comparison to provide an idea what that service would cost without the STS crew. 

Negen said in 2008, STS workers put in 35,000  hours. In 2009, it dropped down to 19,272 hours and in most recently it dropped to 11,374 hours. 

At times, Negen said he’s had two crew leaders and one STS worker going out. 

“That’s just not effective,” This is throughout the state of Minnesota. It’s not unique to Crow Wing County,” Negen said. “They do a good job.” 

Donations were sought from the community, from organizations such as the Jaycees and Sertoma. The county collected $11,850 in donations. 

But in this economy Dahl said those organizations — while appreciative of what the work the STS crew does — are financially tapped as well. Thiede said he understands the charitable organizations don’t want to spend dollars they don’t have, but said given the prospect of losing it the big picture may be spending $2,000 to get a $20,000 value. 

One crew leader supervises up to 10 offenders about 40 hours a week. The contract with the state for the STS crew is not to exceed $115,668. With the trickle-down effect, everyone is doing with less, Dahl said. The crews go out and rake and provide maintenance in some cases and for smaller townships, Dahl said they don’t have money to donate. 

“We understand that as well,” Dahl said. “It’s a sign of the times.”

Tuesday, the board renewed a STS contract with the state to fund one crew through June 30, 2013.

RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at renee.richardson@brainerddispatch.com or 855-5852.

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