The Feb. 7 “consumer report” on college selection (“A game you can’t afford to lose”) encouraged me to share our experience. Like the author, we, too, raised children who were exemplary high school students with many options for higher education. They chose a state university from which they launched successfully into careers or postgraduate programs (including medical school) — without major debt. Their choice also provided opportunities to study abroad affordably, obtain meaningful internships, do research and meet people who remain important in their lives.

In selecting higher education, it is not wise to assume that higher costs equal higher quality. Public and private options here in Minnesota alone are excellent. Remember, college is a launchpad, not the ultimate destination.

Patricia Krueger, St. Cloud

CHILD PROTECTION

An important article, but here’s an important distinction

Most everyone can agree that it is in the best interest of our community to respond swiftly and effectively to protect vulnerable children from abuse and neglect. The Feb. 7 article “Abused kids wait days to get help” reveals the fundamental inadequacies of Minnesota’s child-protection system and points to the real need for more qualified professionals and more funding to address the challenge. However, it mistakenly uses the term “social workers” generically in reference to child-protection caseworkers.

Social work is a profession with a specific degreed discipline of coursework and state licensure standards. These prepare one with the skills and techniques necessary to effectively intervene with families and systems on the complex issues that affect family life, parenting, child safety and well-being.

While some child-protection caseworkers may be trained “social workers,” not all are. Currently, the law does not require counties across Minnesota to hire those specifically educated or licensed as “social workers” to oversee child-abuse casework, child protection or child-welfare services.

It’s possible that the Legislature could change course and take steps to require that all child-protection workers and those overseeing the child-welfare system be graduates of a social work degree program and/or be Minnesota-licensed social workers.

If we use the term “social worker” generically to refer to anyone delivering social services, we misrepresent (however inadvertently) the profession and its significant role and impact in our community.

Rob Edwards and Deborah Talen, St. Paul

Edwards is a board member of the National Association of Social Workers’ Minnesota chapter. Talen is executive director of the Minnesota chapter.

 

PRISON BLOAT

It all starts with our state’s sentencing philosophy

I would like to address a point in the Feb. 7 article “Changes to law bloat prisons and their costs” — that of technical violations. A technical violation is just that — not a new crime, but a human error violation of the terms of release, like missing an appointment or failing a drug test. Technical violations are people-made problems. Things like limited access to housing, transportation and jobs all make it more difficult for a person on probation to meet the terms of release. Instead of making it difficult, we need to be working on ways to ensure successful probation and supervised releases. This includes enforcing Minnesota’s new “ban the box” policies, changing how employers use background checks in the hiring process; sentencing reform, and expanding opportunities for community engagement, such as voting.

As a state, we need to address the ripple effect that new laws are having in our mass incarceration system. One way to do that is to support people who are coming out of prison, on probation or supervised release so they aren’t set up to fail as they are now. When we don’t provide that support, we are feeding them directly back into prisons and jails. We have an opportunity to cut our prison population, instead of increasing it. Let’s grab this opportunity for serious reform.

Amity Foster, Minneapolis

• • •

The article regarding Minnesota’s harsh sentencing and prison overcrowding paradigm highlights that, in our state, we underscore public-safety goals by understanding nonviolent criminal behavior to be a problem that justifies a lengthy prison stay.

However, our overreliance on incarceration as a primary means of deterrence has created a system in which alternatives to confinement appear to be a foreign and unworthy concept. As a result, we destroy the humanity of individuals and devastate the communities they belong to. We avert our attention from the root causes of crime by seeing treatment, education and job training as secondary options. We remain apathetic toward the disturbing racial disparities evident in the cells lined by mostly black and brown people, and deny that a modern form of slavery still exists.

Finally, we render people powerless when we release them into a world that forever considers them criminal, denying them access to housing, jobs and the right to vote. It is no wonder why they too often return on technical violations; their value ascribed by society has been relegated to a second-class citizen. A highly punitive system does not rehabilitate; it holds individuals in social purgatory, where their progress is indefinitely suspended. We must de-escalate our sentencing strategies for nonviolent offenses and craft alternative policies that address the needs of the entire individual by making system changes a primary obligation.

Renee Zschokke, St. Paul

The writer is an offender workforce development specialist.

• • •

It is good that the Legislature is having informational hearings on the prison space problem. However, I take issue with the absolute disregard of why some of these laws are in place to begin with, specifically, the felony DWI law. Our group, Minnesotans for Safe Driving, worked very hard to pass that law in 2002. Since the law was implemented, DWIs in our state are down 25 percent, and drunken-driving deaths are down 50 percent.

The law is not the problem. Nearly all first-time felony DWI offenders avoid prison time. Prison is generally reserved for habitual felony DWI offenders, people with at least five DWIs in the last 10 years. Before they get to a felony DWI, there has been treatment required, county jail or home monitoring, and nothing has worked. These are very dangerous people to society and to themselves.

Most prisons have treatment programs, restorative-justice programs and other education programs to help inmates make changes in their lives. In fact, one of our members speaks at prisons all over the state, and on several occasions, inmates have told him that without the prison sentence, they would not have stopped drinking and driving. Some DWI/drug courts are accepting felony DWI offenders for their intensive programs with good success, and these offenders are avoiding prison so long as they follow the program. This may be the future, but we cannot take away the prison option until that happens.

Sharon Gehrman-Driscoll, St. Louis Park

 

STRAINED PENSION FUNDS

Longevity is an excuse, covering up unrealistic expectations

Longevity (“Longevity strains state pension,” Feb. 7) is not the driving force behind the huge liability gap in the state employee pension program. It is the pension fund managers’ and the Legislature’s assumption that they can get an 8 percent rate of return on investment. Really? We haven’t seen that kind of a return in ages. The Legislature and fund managers need to revisit this issue and determine a more realistic return rate so that we, the taxpayers, don’t have to bail out the funds.

Kathryn Bracke, Minneapolis