County aims to cut repeat offenses

FAIRMONT – Officials involved in the local criminal justice system are encouraging Martin County commissioners to support pursuing grants to reduce repeat criminal offenses.

Drug court coordinator Miranda Rosa, Fairmont Police Chief Greg Brolsma and Judge Robert Walker spoke to commissioners Tuesday about the money-saving and life-changing potential that can be achieved by obtaining a jail re-entry grant.

When an inmate is discharged from jail, “a lot of them fall flat on their face,” Rosa said.

“They don’t have a plan in place. They want to change their life, but they don’t know how,” she said.

Having a coordinator to help with housing, mental health contacts and employment might help “break the cycle” of returning prisoners, Brolsma said, noting that other counties have tried such programs with success.

“It’s dropped recidivism significantly,” he said, sometimes with “staggering” success. “It’s one of the best things we can do” to keep people from re-offending.

“We have a revolving door. In 75 percent of the cases, they (jailers) know the inmate by their first name,” Walker said.

Walker referred to Steele and Stearns counties, both of which have a jail re-entry program. His judicial colleagues in those counties claim a $500,000 savings by not having to jail repeat offenders. The figure doesn’t include the burgeoning costs of child placement in foster care.

Commissioner Elliot Belgard questioned what would happen to the program with the expiration of the grant, usually two years. Commissioner Dan Schmidtke noted it would be difficult to find room for a coordinator’s office in the courthouse, where space is limited.

“If you do nothing, you’re going to continue to spend those [recidivism] costs,” Walker said.

Commissioners voted unanimously to move forward with grant funding applications for the jail re-entry program, and encouraged inclusion of neighboring counties in the program.

In other business Tuesday, commissioners unanimously supported a property tax abatement proposal for the Trimont Town Center Project. Trimont has agreed to issue bonds to finance the installation of water, sewer and storm sewer services necessary for the project.?It will pledge future property tax revenue from the project as a means of repaying those bonds.

Shannon Sweeney of David Drown Associates of Minneapolis, public finance advisers representing Trimont, estimated the center will incur about $4,000 in county taxes each year, and requested that commissioners refund the money to the city for 20 years to help with bond payment.

“You simply reimburse the taxes as they are paid,” said Sweeney, noting there is a set time limit and a cap on the amount.