Fewer prisoners, fewer dollars in Washington County

  • Article by: JIM ANDERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 27, 2011 - 10:00 PM

County attorney, sheriff and head of the Community Corrections Department outlined their financial needs for the coming year.

Washington County is following a statewide trend when it comes to a steadily declining jail population, and the effects will be felt in the 2012 budget.

Sheriff Bill Hutton, Washington County Attorney Pete Orput and Tom Adkins, director of the county's Community Corrections Department, gave their budget presentations to the County Board last week. They were the last department heads to do so.

The board will set its maximum budget levy for 2012 at its meeting on Sept. 13. The proposed budget shows a decrease in operating expenditures to $139.8 million, a 4.1 percent decline from 2011, and no increase in the county's portion of the property tax levy.

Hutton said the county's inmate population has steadily declined from an average of 190 per day in 2008 to what is projected to be 155 per day this year. And the number of inmates from other counties housed in Washington County has fallen by an even greater percentage -- from an average of 25 a day to seven -- during that same time.

It means jail revenues paid to Washington County for 2012 will be chopped in half, Hutton said, to about $200,000. But it also means the jail portion of his proposed budget that won't be as strained as in the past.

"This is a great thing," Hutton told the board.

While cautioning that such numbers run in cycles, Hutton said it's part of a trend seen in counties across the Twin Cities. Declining crime rates across Minnesota have meant less crowded jails and reduced the need for counties to lease space for housing its inmates.

Hutton's budget calls for no additional staffing. The sheriff's office contracts with 12 communities and two school districts to provide patrol deputies, for which all costs are reimbursed.

The department is on track to make just more than 1,000 arrests this year, a drop of about 300.

A sergeant was added last year to Hugo, bringing its complement of deputies to six. Hugo is the largest community in the county without its own police force, but Hutton said the arrangement is working well, and changes down the road could include the addition of an investigator.

County attorney

Orput took office at the beginning of the year and outlined some of the changes he's implemented that he said aim for efficiency while effectively battling crime.

Orput told the board that more cases are being prosecuted, and decisions on whether to press for prosecution are made more quickly, which is a service to crime victims.

Last year's goal for case review was completion within 45 days. The turnaround time for adult criminal cases now is typically three days; seven days in juvenile cases.

Orput has laid out three initiatives for the coming year, targeting truancy, domestic abuse and creating a veterans diversion program. The diversion program is patterned after others in the state. It would allow veterans who are charged with crimes but who are suffering from the unique effects of wartime service to be processed outside of the traditional criminal justice system. They would be steered to the rehabilitation services they need.

The county also ranks highest in the state in the rate of collecting child support payments, and his goal is to retain that ranking. The county collected $25 million on behalf of parents last year, collecting $7.30 for every $1 spent (the state average is $4.32).

Orput's budget calls for the elimination of one full-time position -- a Victim-Witness Program supervisor -- as part of the effort to cut $97,500 from his budget.

Community Corrections

Adkins said his budget proposes to eliminate one support position.

His department supervises more than 7,800 adults and 500 juveniles. Many of the adult offenders are required to pay fees involved with their supervision, but with the economy in tatters, half of them are unemployed and can't pay, Adkins said.

"We have an unemployment problem, and a collection problem," he said.

A new Offender Recovery Program has helped save the county money by offering an alternative for criminals likely to re-offend, but whose primary problem is chemical dependency, Adkins said. By getting them the help they need, they can stay out of the court system, which is more costly.

Jim Anderson • 651-925-5038

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