Launches Specific Domestic Violence, Mental Health Program – Brainerd Dispatch

BRAINERD — Pilot projects seeking to address pandemic-era spikes in domestic violence and mental health concerns are off the ground and starting to see results.

Christa Jones, Crow Wing County Improvement Manager, updated county commissioners on the two-year projects, which were funded by federal COVID-19 relief dollars obtained through the American Rescue Plan Act. The county board approved the use of a portion of those funds for internal needs in March 2022, after which the Department of Corrections received the authority to hire two full-time probation agents focused on the job.

“These were two areas, as you remember, that we identified were highly impacted and we saw an increase in cases as a result of COVID,” Jones said during the committee’s Jan. 17 meeting of the full.

Assigning a domestic violence-specific caseload with the intent of improving early intervention and outcomes is new to Crow Wing County. The first few months were spent developing policies and procedures, while also meeting with other stakeholders in the system, including the county attorney’s office, judges, public defenders, and the Relationship Safety Alliance, formerly known as the Mid-Minnesota It was known as the Women’s Center.

These conversations identified gaps in the system, Jones said, while helping to establish a common understanding of a workflow that allows agents to meet with the accused before indictment to assess their risk of re-offending. .

“We felt this was really important because it would give the court the information they need to determine whether or not they meet the criteria and place them on this caseload,” Jones said.

A total of 19 people accused of intimate partner domestic violence were accepted into the pretrial supervision program through the end of 2022, with four more added since then. Jones said that in the five months since it started working with clients, the department is already seeing positive effects, though she said it’s too early to start drawing conclusions.

None of the program participants have missed a follow-up court appearance. Through early and regular contact with clients, Jones said the department has expedited access to services including chemical use assessments and domestic violence counseling. And in all cases, Jones said the agent contacted the victim to make sure they, too, received the services they needed.

“Information increases their safety as well as impacts children in the home who are witnessing and experiencing domestic violence,” Jones said. “So that family needs to attend those services.

“This was something that was not happening before the pretrial program was implemented because there was no one to supervise or monitor those clients who were released from prison and returned to the community. Often, they reconnected with that victim. And those kids are facing that continued violence. And we all see the effects of that.”

Commissioner Steve Barrows asked if the work had an effect on preventing out-of-home placements of children. Jones said it’s likely that early intervention with the whole family will prevent more serious consequences later.

Commissioner Paul Koering asked if missing court appearances was normal. Jones said that although he doesn’t have exact figures, he estimates that people don’t show up at least half the time.

Commissioner Steve Barrows discusses his views on mental health services provided by the state of Minnesota during a Crow Wing County Committee of the Whole meeting on January 17, 2023.

Chelsea Perkins / Brainerd Dispatch

“What we have seen is that those cases drag on for so long because they are not appearing in the court. If the client is not showing up for their next court appearance then it is really difficult to proceed with that case,” she said. “So by ensuring that appearance, we are able to resolve these cases much faster and provide them with the services they need to take that case forward and hopefully drive significant behavioral change.”

A similar project focused on interventions for people with severe and persistent mental illness involved in the criminal justice system took longer to get started, but is also underway. Jones explained that an agent hired in May 2022 resigned in October, so the replacement hire didn’t begin working with clients until November.

A total of 11 clients were determined to be eligible for the special mental health program by the end of the year, increasing the number to 13 by the January 17 meeting.

“Due to the intensity and high needs of this severe and persistent mental illness population, working with this population is extremely time consuming, so we kept the caseload at 25,” Jones said. “Knowing the time it takes to do a good job with this population and connect them to services, build those relationships, gain that trust — working with this population is essential.”

Jones said that when these clients are part of a probation agent’s traditional caseload of 60-80 clients, their mental health needs often go unmet, even when the agent is able to spend additional dedicated time. The approach to these clients by a specialized mental health agent appears to be different, he added.

We don’t want to see him go to jail. We want to connect them to services and meet their needs the way they need them,” Jones said.

According to the report, actions taken by the special agent include scheduling therapy appointments, helping clients access residential treatment or a group home, assisting with modifying child support payments or setting up a payment plan for court fines and spiraling Several hours of phone calls are included to help stabilize Dr. customer.

While the program is underway, Jones said she looks forward to building it further and collaborating with the adult mental health team at Community Services.

Barrows said he believed the two programs represented a good investment of relief dollars, despite his disappointment with the state’s approach to mental health care.

“I still struggle with the state of Minnesota … what I see is their role in participating,” Barrow said. “… I think this is a backwards way of getting counties to take responsibility specifically for mental health. When they moved away from it a few years back, this is the result.

Jones said the biggest challenge is the lack of a robust system capable of meeting the needs.

“We don’t have the infrastructure, the services to place people in the community the way we need them,” she said. “Even with our local providers, they are facing shortage of staff. And I think that’s one of the biggest challenges, not only with this caseload, but with traditional agents as well. It’s just lack of services.

Chelsea Perkins, Community Editor, can be reached at 218-855-5874 or

[email protected]

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