More than one-fifth of the 20,400 people sentenced to felony probation in Ramsey County from 2002 to 2016 had their probation revoked. That means time behind bars — away from families, jobs and community supports — and additional costs to taxpayers.

Now, Ramsey County is one of 10 jurisdictions across the United States that will study how to reduce the number of offenders who end up going to jail or prison for violating probation.

The county's Community Corrections department, along with the Robina Institute of Criminal Law and Criminal Justice at the University of Minnesota, will participate in the "Reducing Revocations Challenge." It's aimed at raising the success rate of people serving probation through new strategies and a better understanding of why revocations occur.

The challenge is organized by Houston-based Arnold Ventures and the City University of New York (CUNY) Institute for State and Local Governance in New York City. Probation violations send almost 350,000 people to jails and prisons nationally each year, according to the CUNY institute.

"Probation violations have resulted in significant increases to prison populations to no good effect, and it's time to refocus resources on policies and practices that will help people succeed and increase public safety," said Michael Jacobson, executive director of the CUNY institute and former commissioner of New York City's Department of Probation, in a statement.

Besides Ramsey County, other jurisdictions taking part in the study include Cook County, Ill., which has Chicago as its county seat; Denver; and Harris County, Texas, where Houston is the county seat.

The Robina Institute will receive a $197,000 grant to conduct research and data analysis on what is causing probation failures. The findings will be used to craft solutions for both policies and practices. Some strategies may receive additional funding.

"We are committed to using data to understand the revocation pathways in our county and develop solutions to promote success for people on probation," said John Klavins, Ramsey County's Community Corrections director, in a statement.

The revocations challenge is one of a series of criminal justice reform efforts now underway in Ramsey County. In June, the county was one of three jurisdictions selected nationwide to look at ways to reduce reliance on criminal fines and fees for its budget.

PFM, a Philadelphia-based financial advisory firm that works with cities and counties nationwide, is coordinating the project through its Center for Justice and Safety Finance.

"Too often, fees and fines can be a form of poor tax — a revenue source that disproportionately hits low-income offenders," said David Eichenthal, PFM managing director and the center's executive director. "Progressive local government leaders understand that they don't need to choose between balanced budgets and fairness in the criminal justice system."

Shannon Prather • 651-925-5037