Treatment courts are one of the most successful innovations in the history of the criminal justice system for purposes of rehabilitation and reintegration into the community. Treatment courts provide services to specific groups of justice-involved individuals, such as veterans and those with diagnosed mental health and chemical dependency issues.
Treatment court participants are subject to much more restrictive supervision than standard probationers. Participants are expected to attend multiple court appearances each month and to have regular meetings with a dedicated probation officer. This ensures violations are addressed and interventions are delivered in close proximity.
Treatment courts use the leverage of a criminal conviction to require participants to attend mental health and chemical dependency treatment, in addition to any other treatment deemed necessary by treatment professionals on the treatment court team. Additional factors, such as employment, housing, education, and driver’s license status are also addressed by the team.
Upon graduation, participants are expected to reintegrate with society. In exchange for the incredibly hard work necessary to complete a treatment court program, successful participants receive a favorable legal outcome, often having their charges dismissed completely, freeing them from the collateral consequences that stem from criminal convictions.
The success of Scott County Drug Court and Veterans Treatment Court has shown the effectiveness of these programs. If elected, I would advocate for the creation of additional treatment courts in Scott County. An adult mental health court and a juvenile drug court would be my top priorities, although I would always remain open to expanding treatment courts as resources allow.
The strong relationships I built with other agencies within the county during the creation of Veterans Court will be crucial to the formation of additional treatment courts in the future.
For additional information on treatment courts see https://www.nadcp.org/treatment-courts-work/
In August of 2021, the Veterans Restorative Justice Act was enacted into law. This new law requires district courts throughout the state of Minnesota to allow United States military veterans who have a mental health or chemical dependency diagnosis due to their military service to participate in a treatment court or similar program.
This standardization is crucial because a veteran could commit a crime in one county, complete a treatment court program, and earn a clean criminal record, while a similarly situated veteran could commit the same crime in a neighboring county and end up as a convicted felon.
The support of this bill and its eventual acceptance into law is evidence that the treatment court model is effective and has strong political support. I helped form the Scott County Veterans Treatment Court to address these same issues and have personally seen how these programs can save and change lives.
The days of using the law for retributive justice are, deservedly, being left behind. This outdated model is slowly transitioning to a system in which the law is used to influence necessary change in people’s lives. The antiquated philosophy of imposing harsh punishment and incarceration fails to address the root cause of an individual’s interaction with the justice system while simultaneously wasting significant taxpayer resources.
Prosecutors must make ethical decisions about whether involvement in the justice system is necessary to protect the public interest in every single case. When the decision is made to bring that person into the system, the prosecutor continues to have a responsibility to ensure a just resolution. That does not mean seeking an outcome of conviction, permanency petition, commitment, or other result traditionally favorable to the State should be sought in each and every case.
Instead, prosecutors should seek creative solutions and collaborate with justice partners to achieve the same goals as the treatment court model. Rehabilitation and reintegration into society needs to be the primary goal of every prosecutorial interaction.
Only when those involved in the justice system refuse or are incapable of being rehabilitated and reintegrated should a prosecutor seek more restrictive and severe consequences.
The prosecution philosophy embodied by the treatment court model cannot be effective without cooperation from multiple justice partners. While the initial decision whether to bring a citizen into the justice system rests with the prosecutor alone, the rehabilitation of that individual requires skills, abilities, and resources not found within a county attorney’s office.
One of the leading reasons people become involved in the justice system is a lack of basic needs. Those who don’t have stable housing, who can’t obtain employment, who struggle with chemical dependency, and who have unaddressed and untreated mental health conditions make up the vast majority of the population in the justice system any given day.
The agency responsible for assessing these individuals, determining what services are appropriate, and ultimately providing these services is Scott County Human Services. The County Attorney’s Office should strive to strengthen its relationship with Human Services to ensure effective delivery of services to those most in need.
Effective supervision is also a requirement for those involved in the justice system. Supervision, provided by Scott County Community Corrections, is crucial to ensure defendants are participating in the services necessary for them to be rehabilitated, to take corrective action when necessary to protect public safety, and to build positive relationships. As with Human Services, effective prosecution can only be conducted if strong collaboration with Community Corrections exists.
The Scott County Attorney’s Office has experienced significant staff turnover in the last 18 months. This turnover has included valuable administrative staff, victim/witness support, and skilled attorneys.
Turnover is harmful because talented employees are vacating their positions, often taking same or similar positions elsewhere. In addition to the skills lost in this transaction, new employees must be hired and trained, which is a drain on resources and requires employees to take on additional job duties at the expense of others.
Turnover also makes collaboration between agencies more difficult. Well respected employees build strong relationships with other agencies throughout the county. When those employees are lost, the relationships are weakened or severed completely.
To achieve its goals, the County Attorney’s Office needs to focus on retaining quality employees. Most compensation for employees is dictated by union negotiations so it is the responsibility of the County Attorney’s Office to find means aside from direct compensation to create a destination work environment. This includes incorporating employee feedback into policymaking, instituting a hybrid work model to fit employees' needs, continuous mentoring and training for experienced and inexperienced employees alike, and conducting teambuilding activities to build camaraderie within the office.
The justice system’s primary responsibility is to serve the public. Scott County citizens’ involvement in the functioning of its justice system is crucial. Current opportunities for the public to weigh in on criminal justice issues is limited to community social media pages and a county attorney election every four years.
If elected, I will increase the engagement between the County Attorney’s Office and the public by creating and maintaining social media profiles, updating the current website to allow for more interaction, and attending community meetings.
The community’s feedback regarding justice system policy should not be limited to voting once every four years. I am committed to increasing this engagement between election years.
Drug crimes make up a significant portion of the caseload in Scott County. Following the implementation of the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984, which is often cited as the beginning of the “War on Drugs,” the prison population in the United States grew from about 445,000 to over two million- a nearly 500% increase over the last 40 years.
That prison population is nearly equal to number of incarcerated people in China and Russia combined. Additionally, the US has higher incarceration rates per capita than countries such as Rwanda, Cuba, and Thailand.
The primary factor in the expansion of the prison population has been drug-related crime. Nearly half the federal prison population consists of those convicted of drug crimes. State prison populations have a slightly lower rate but have still increased ninefold since 1984. Those who tend to be convicted and incarcerated for drug crimes are often low-level actors- either users themselves or minor dealers. Those who manufacture and distribute large quantities of dangerous drugs are convicted at a much lower rate and make up a much smaller portion of the prison population.
The decriminalization and legalization of marijuana has rapidly progressed throughout the United States. In Minnesota, efforts have been made to decriminalize marijuana and citizens can legally possess and use it with a medical card. As states and the federal government trend toward decriminalization, continued prosecution of these cases is a waste of valuable resources.
Many of the decriminalization bills passed throughout the United States have also included an expungement component, meaning anyone convicted of a marijuana crime prior to the passage of the law would be eligible to have that removed from their criminal record. Again, spending prosecutorial resources on these offenses, only to have them mandatorily expunged should decriminalization come to Minnesota, adds to the waste.
If I am elected, I will direct the Scott County Attorney’s Office to stop prosecuting all marijuana possession offenses. This change will allow the Scott County Attorney’s Office and local law enforcement more time and resources dedicated to investigating and prosecuting serious offenses.
A much bigger public safety risk is at issue when drugs such as methamphetamine and fentanyl are considered. Individuals who are chemically dependent on these substances are at risk of prosecution for felony level crimes simply for using and possessing these drugs. An addict is not a threat to public safety when the only interaction they have with the criminal justice system concerns the possession of these drugs.
If elected, I will direct prosecutors to explore all possible avenues for treatment and rehabilitation before convicting any person of a drug possession offense.
Those who manufacture and distribute drugs would continue to be prosecuted by the Scott County Attorney’s office to the fullest extent. Unlike those charged with possession crimes, people who manufacture and distribute dangerous drugs rationally choose to break the law and harm others for their own benefit. These individuals are a danger to the community and will not receive the opportunities afforded to their victims.
The cash bail system is in need of reform. Wealthy individuals charged with crimes can almost always afford a cash bail or bond amount. However, the population most often involved in the justice system, those with mental health and chemical dependency issues, tend to have little or no financial resources. Imposing even a nominal amount of bail forces these individuals to remain in custody while their case slogs through the system. Similarly situated wealthy defendants are allowed to return home while their case is pending, allowing them to continue working and providing for their families.
Remaining in custody also tends to force individuals to admit guilt even when they aren’t guilty, simply to be released from jail. It's a central principle of our justice system that those who are not guilty of a crime cannot and should not be convicted of that offense, particularly if the only factor in admitting guilt is an inability to post bail.
The Scott County Attorney’s Office does not have an official policy on requests for cash bail. The determination of an appropriate bail request is left to individual prosecutors who charge cases and appear at bail hearings. This lack of standardized policy leads to wild variations in which a disproportionate bail amount is imposed on low level offenses, such as driver’s license violations, while violent crimes, such as domestic assault, may result in a much lower bail request.
There are alternatives to the cash bail system that need to be explored and implemented, if found to be effective. If elected, I would commit to exploring and implementing these alternatives.
In the interim, the Scott County Attorney’s Office needs to standardize bail requests based on the nature of the offense, the defendant’s criminal history, and the history of making or missing court appearances. Individual circumstances should still be taken into account by the prosecutor, but a standardized system would reduce disparities and ensure individual bias does not factor into a bail request.
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