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home : government : government July 24, 2014


4/2/2014 1:14:00 PM
Probation diversion effort targets nonviolent offenders
Eileen Nimm
Chronotype staff

A new Diversion Court Program to reduce the number of people on probation got full support from Barron County's Criminal Justice Collaborating Council on Tuesday, April 1. The program, set to begin in the next few months, won't require more staff or cost more dollars to provide.
The program is designed to reduce the number of nonviolent, low risk offenders on probation in Barron County.
Program benefits are early intervention, timely recourse for the victims, reducing the number of jail days because treatment options result in reduced sentences and cases resolved in a timely manner.
Also, offenders have the possibility of no criminal conviction, jail time or probation supervision, and they are provided with life skills relevant to all areas of life.
At February's council meeting Barron County Circuit Court Judge James Babler referred to the 2011 National Institute on Corrections Report that stated the county's local correctional case load rate is 57.9% higher than similar sized counties.
That percentage is still accurate today, said the state's Rice Lake Division of Probation and Parole supervisor Stephanie Schmidt at February's meeting.
The report stated, "The large growth in probation cases is largely attributable to the sharp increase in the number of admissions involving misdemeanors."
Ten probation agents are currently supervising 693 probationers. There are 955 cases open in Barron County because several probationers have multiple cases for which they are under supervision, wrote CJCC coordinator Shanda Harrington in a March 25 memo to Babler.
Theft, drunken driving, possession of controlled substances or drug paraphernalia and bail jumping are the top four offenses for which people are on probation in the county.
The Diversion Court Program seeks to reduce probation case loads and the number of bail jumping cases.
Similar to the Drug Treatment Court Program, offenders accepted into the Diversion Court Program will, through a diversion agreement, be supported and held accountable at each court hearing, according to information about the diversion program proposed by Judge Maureen Boyle at Tuesday's council meeting.
Boyle said the pre-conviction diversion program is for offenders charged with a criminal offense where the need to protect the public and rehabilitative needs of the offender don't require imprisonment or probation supervision.
Eligible offenders with a specific, identifiable need that can be addressed in a 3-to-6-month period are selected by the District Attorney's Office.
Examples of specific, identifiable needs include reinstatement of a driver's license; completing an AODA assessment and treatment; completing a domestic violence assessment; a group class or individual counseling; completing an anger management assessment and treatment; completing the Victim/Offender Conference or Victim Impact Panel requirement through the Restorative Justice Programs; paying restitution and performing community service work.
Offenders pay a $50 entry fee, to cover program expenses for supplies, rewards, speaker fees and other tools. Offenders also pay for domestic violence or AODA services.
If an offender completes requirements of the diversion program before the end date of the diversion agreement, the case can be resolved early. A motion to extend the agreement must be made by the District Attorney's Office. A motion to vacate the agreement can be made by either the office or the offender.
Offenders accepted into the program will work with a goal-setting system that breaks down the steps they will take to accomplish their final goal and present those steps to the diversion court at the initial hearing.
At each following court appearance the offender will identify whether he or she accomplished the steps committed to previously.If the offender did not successfully complete the objective, he or she must explain why.
Offenders will report back on requirements completed which will be verified by existing program coordinators, such as the community service coordinator, Restorative Justice Programs and domestic violence counselors and AODA counselors, both approved by the District Attorney's Office.
Guest speakers may be invited to attend court hearings to address life skills and to assist offenders in following the goal-setting system.
Boyle has volunteered to act as presiding judge. Offenders will appear before her about every 6 weeks to report on their progress. Boyle said after the meeting she'll likely start with about 20 offenders.
The judge can take pleas or resolve cases or cases could be returned to the assigned branch for plea and sentencing. Those offenders failing to complete the program or who are not consistently meeting their goals will be removed from Diversion Court and returned to the branch assigned to the case for further scheduling.

Reader Comments

Posted: Thursday, April 3, 2014
Article comment by: Mary Glynn

How about getting a Community Peace Officer for Rice Lake and Barron? An outside officer specifically dedicated to ongoing alcohol, noise, truancy and rental property complaints could coordinate ongoing police calls to one residence, ie/ underage drinking parties. The anonymous reporting system does not work when offenders assume neighbors, not the mothers of teen girls coming home drunk, are reporting them and retaliate. Also, there is no court record in ccap for RL municipal violations like hosting underage drinking parties and the police department will not release police reports until the da's office closes their files... too late. Some officers, it seems, have a 'boys will be boys' take too on alcohol complaints. There should be a way to report people who are getting monthly checks for disability, living 'independently', yet not making good choices about the underage (under 18) guests they are hosting and moving in. There is no phone number in the county to call about ongoing problems until you are a victim. The shift officer on call does not know the background when they respond to a residence with drunks between 1 and 5 am. But a smart community peace officer could link these things and know who is who at problem addresses before responding to a call in the middle of the night. They could identify and address the civil problems before someone is affected/victimized this is a smarter way to solve the problems BEFORE they get into the criminal court system and the hands of the paid cast of non-legal advocates, counselors, and bureacrats where these cases languish for nearly a year. Invite citizens not living on quiet streets or in big residential neighborhoods to advise you the problems are not there but in the rental properties -- there needs to be a health and human services phone number, or a peace officer, to call when pre-problems arise with the mentally ill people in the library, apartment complexes and in public. We in the public are not trained to deal with these people's special needs, living so close to us and interacting with us in public places where the judges and police do not go. The judges need not be soft, but they need to consider effective solutions, not just 'catch and release'.

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