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Crow Wing County Attorney’s Office initiates pilot program to outsource select probation cases

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Crow Wing County Attorney Don Ryan (second from right) talks at the Tuesday, Aug. 27, board meeting about a pilot probation program intended to ease the workload of the attorney's office. Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch
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As the chief prosecutor for crimes in the county, Crow Wing County Attorney Don Ryan may not often have reasons to appear jovial, but he was smiling at a recent county board meeting.

Ryan shared for the first time with county commissioners at the Tuesday, Aug. 27, board meeting information about a new probation program in the county initiated earlier this year.

“Before this new program we initiated, we had two types of probation: you had ‘supervised probation,’ which means you have an agent, and you had ‘unsupervised probation,’ which most people would interpret that there’s nobody monitoring that,” Ryan told the board.

Probation agents build relationships with adult offenders, implement case plans to restore law-abiding behaviors and address community safety, according to county officials.

“In actuality, for the last 15 years, our office basically was monitoring ‘unsupervised probation,’ and we would do periodic checks to see if someone had new charges. If we got information that somebody got a new charge in a different county, we would do that,” Ryan said.

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“And with the increase in our caseloads, we got to the point where we just couldn’t manage that anymore because the numbers were growing.”

Diversion Solutions is a Red Wing-based company offering “innovative programs for the criminal justice system that enable offenders of criminal law to avoid criminal charges and/or a criminal record.”

“We had been using those for our traffic diversions and a number of different programs,” Ryan said. “They’re actually now opening an office in Brainerd, and they’re going to have full-time staff people here because it’s taken off.”

In November, the Cass County Board of Commissioners approved a new program to help drivers whose licenses have been suspended or revoked to get a new driving license.

Cass County has a contract with Diversion Solutions, which meets with eligible people to help them set up a payment program for their fines, fees or other financial obligations that have prevented them from getting their license reinstated.

“In meeting with Scott Adkisson ... and we’ve discussed this for several years -- we rolled out a brand new program that we created here in Crow Wing County called ‘supervised monitored probation,’” Ryan said of the chief executive officer of Diversion Solutions LLC.

Diversion Solutions works with law enforcement, government agencies and legislatures to develop “‘best-in-class’ offender programs that meets the needs of the criminal justice system,” according to the company’s website.

“We have ‘unsupervised probation’ where people basically -- they’re the low-level kind of misdemeanor- or gross misdemeanor-type of offenses -- where basically if you pay your fines and you don’t get into anymore trouble, probation will be suspended,” Ryan said.

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“Then we have the ‘supervised monitored probation,’ which we now have, out of our office, diverted all misdemeanor cases that would have went to supervised probation ... and some felonies and gross misdemeanors that are lower level ... and it’s been highly successful.”

The stated purpose of Diversion Solutions is to” offer relief to your office of expensive and lengthy criminal justice proceedings,” according to the company’s website.

“It’s reduced the number of cases that the probation (department) has to monitor because they’ve gotten basically very few new misdemeanors,” Ryan said of Diversion Solutions.

“Our probation department has also contracted with them to do their collections work now -- because the agency we were using went out of business -- which is better than what we were getting before.”

“Accountability and restitution are key components to what we do. Including all programs, since inception, we have returned over $16 million in victim restitution, past due fines and fees. All the while, we have worked with over 15,000 participants,” according to Diversion Solutions’ website.

“We might have a very serious, say, misdemeanor domestic where we would want to have a local person as opposed to a non-local person monitoring that -- put him on stricter guidelines -- but for the most part it’s reduced the numbers for our probation department,” Ryan said.

Diversion Solutions' suite of services includes driver’s license reinstatement program, traffic education program, felony pre-charge diversion, supervise monitor and educate program, and custom diversion programs and accountability programs.

“In September, we’re going to be sitting down with all the players -- public defender’s office, corrections, our office, the courts … and I think we’re going to keep going with it because it’s just kind of a pilot (program) right now,” Ryan said.

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“And we’re also going to meet with the new city prosecutors to see if we can roll those into this program as well because they’re still sending them to probation. … And then we might look at expanding it to gross misdemeanors and property low-level felonies where basically we’re just collecting restitution.”

Adkisson works with state and local agencies to develop new diversion programs to benefit states, counties, cities, businesses, taxpayers and offenders. He was instrumental in legislation being enacted to establish diversion programs in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

“So basically it’s just a way to outsource some of those things, and when you can have the courts, the prosecutors and the defense bar -- as well as the people being prosecuted -- all thinking it’s a good program that doesn’t happen every day,” Ryan said.

“And it’s kind of cool in that I’ve had several other county attorneys call us and ask what we did and how we did that, and so they’re kind of expanding that program to some of the surrounding counties, too, or at least they’re looking at it.”

I cover arts and entertainment, and write feature stories, for the Brainerd Dispatch newspaper. As a professional journalist with years of experience, I have won awards for my fact-based reporting. And my articles have also appeared in other publications, including USA Today. 📰
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