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Morrison County Record
Morrison County Community Corrections helps former criminals ‘turn lives around’
By Joseph Stanichar,
Over the past five years, crime has been on the rise in Morrison County. However, the 10 members of the Community Corrections staff have worked hard to help people who have committed crimes get the resources they need to live fulfilling, law-abiding lives.
During the Morrison County Board of Commissioners meeting Tuesday, Sept. 26, the director of Community Corrections, Nicole Kern, gave a presentation about the department’s work in the past and present, as well as moving into the future. The department works with people on probation, supervised release (previously known as parole) and in drug court.
The 10 staff members work for 958 clients, as of Sept. 18, 707 of whom are in local supervision, meaning they reside within Morrison County. An additional 142 clients are in transfer cases, which means their case is being transferred into or out of Morrison County, and the remaining 109 clients are in warrant cases.
Kern presented graphs and charts demonstrating the types of crime that occur in Morrison County. In 2022, 30% of crimes were DWI, 25% were assaultive, 24% were drug-related, 12% were theft-related and 9% were sex offenses.
A line graph showed that between 2017 and 2022, four out of those five types of crimes increased in frequency, with the exception being a slight decrease in theft-related crimes. Commissioner Mike LeMieur noted that the biggest rise in crime by far was between 2021 and 2022.
Kern also presented statistics on the number of people currently on supervision. There are 548 felony cases, 256 gross misdemeanor cases and 153 misdemeanor cases.
“One of the things that Community Corrections struggles with is we have an image problem,” Kern said. “It’s really hard for people to understand what we do. In the 1990s, we were taught to focus on court-ordered conditions, and obviously monitoring people. It was more of the nail ’em, tail ’em, jail ’em. In the 2000s, studies came out that showed that that doesn’t work. It’s not helping people turn their lives around.
“And it said, the best thing that we could do was invest in training, get staff trained in risk/needs assessments, motivational interviewing, cognitive behavioral programming, so that we could help our clients make better choices,” Kern said. “That was more effective than just wandering behind people and trying to catch them doing things. So since then, since the early 2000s, we’ve been wearing multiple hats. It seems like more hats are coming in constantly.”
Of the 10 staff members within the department, six of them are corrections agents who work with the probation, supervised release and drug court clients. Kern said the different hats these agents wear include those of an umpire, teacher, advocate and coach. Agents also work to connect clients with different resources, from legal and financial assistance to mental health services and family counseling.
“We still believe that public safety is our number one mission,” Kern said. “That’s what we are tasked with, number one. But public safety is best served through Community Corrections by us helping these people turn their lives around.”
The recent state legislative session has also brought changes to Community Corrections. Due to new legislation, the department has notified over 500 convicted felons who are not incarcerated that their voting rights have been restored.
There is a new five-year probation cap for felony cases, meaning that felons sentenced to over five years of probation must be re-sentenced to a maximum of five years probation. Additionally, gross misdemeanor cases have a four-year probation cap.
As of Aug. 1, 2022, Community Corrections was required to waive supervision fees for people who fall under certain income limits, and fees will be completely removed by 2027.
This will result in the department receiving less revenue, but also as a result of legislative changes, Morrison County will see an increase of $328,189 in corrections supervision funding. The funds come with the requirements that the department demonstrates a decrease in new offenses, waives the aforementioned supervision fees, demonstrates quality assurance measures and tracks data, which may result in increased IT costs.
Since Morrison County’s drug court started in 2014, Kern said 94 people have participated in the program. Of those participants, 34 have successfully graduated and 38 were terminated from the program, although 23 of those 38 requested to execute their sentences, meaning they decided to go to prison instead of go through drug court. There are also 17 currently participating in the program, with two on warrant status. Two more transferred to another program, and one passed away while in the program.
With around a 36% success rate, Kern said those numbers may not appear to be encouraging, but there have been plenty of success stories for the 34 people who have graduated. Drug court takes a minimum of 18 months, with five separate phases participants progress through.
“We actually had graduates come back to drug court, people who’ve been out for three to four years, and they come back and they speak to the current drug court participants to show them, ‘Don’t give up. I wanted to quit in phase one. I wanted to quit phase two,’” Kern said. “We have another graduate, who actually, I think, has been out for four years now. She sends text messages and emails to the agent who supervises drug court and just says, ‘I have my life back. I’m in my children’s life. I bought property. I’m so proud of all of this.’
“We have another graduate who is now in the process of getting one of her children back. And she sent an email that said, ‘I never thought that this is where my life would be. I couldn’t see this side of life and how it would be. But now I can’t believe that I ever was in that bad spot before. And I’m not going back.’ So those are the things that kind of keep you going. Because as you can see, there’s not always success. And so you need those successes. And you need the graduates as much as the participants to come back and tell us, ‘Keep going.’”