The Hennepin County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday agreed to hire a private company to run a diversion program for first-time low-level drug and property offenders, brushing aside criticisms of the outfit.
The company, Diversion Solutions, will take over for Operation de Novo, a nonprofit that ran diversion programs in the county for 44 years.
The 18-month cost of the program is estimated to run up to $325,600. Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman told the board before the 5-1 vote that the new operation will save the county $500,000 a year.
He said some of the services provided by Operation de Novo will be handled within the county by current court and probation operations.
Diversion Solutions CEO Scott Adkisson runs other operations that have been subject to state sanctions. Legislators at the Capitol on Tuesday evening were on the verge of expanding the company's other program to help drivers with revoked licenses get back on the road. Diversion Solutions handles most of that work in Minnesota, although a Star Tribune report this week revealed Department of Public Safety officials' concerns that Diversion Solutions inflated its success rate for its driver's license program. Legislators are now including a provision to audit the company's numbers.
Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin urged the board to delay the vote for two weeks so there could be an investigation of the recent revelations about the company's success.
"There's a history presented that maybe there were claims about success rates that were not true," he said, "I think we're rushing to judgment."
Freeman, however, said he discussed the issue with Adkisson.
"There is a profound discrepancy between the Department of Public Safety [numbers] and Diversion Solutions," Freeman said.
The company says in its brochure that it has reinstated licenses of 12,000 drivers since 2009. But DPS data shows that only 4,589 drivers got their licenses back.
Freeman said that of the 23,000 who applied for the driver's license reinstatement program, only 13,000 were accepted and about 3,200 satisfied the program, adding that the success rate has jumped to 53 percent.
However, a Diversion Solutions brochure boasts that the program has an "82 percent success rate," which includes people "graduated, active or waiting."
Freeman said that the county was not hiring Diversion Solutions to do a driver's license reinstatement program.
He said his new diversion program will be closely monitored and Diversion Solutions will provide monthly statistics.
"If Diversion Solutions is not doing what it's supposed to be doing by the first of September, I'll cancel the contract," he said.