J. Hancuch, Sherburne Cty Probation Director

County looking at probation system

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Staff Writer
Ken Francis
Sherburne County is in the process of evaluating how its probation department operates.
At a workshop meeting with the county board last week, Sherburne County Probation Director J Hancuch presented a comparison between how a Community Corrections Act (CCA) system might be beneficial over a County Probation Officer (CPO) system, which Sherburne County currently has.
A CPO supervises all juvenile and adult misdemeanor offenders residing in the county. Adult felons are supervised by the Dept. of Corrections (DOC).
Under a CCA, all juvenile and adult offenders, even felons, are supervised by the county probation department.
Hancuch worked at Anoka County for 18 years where a CCA system was in place.
“In my experience it’s better to have one department supervise all the offenders,” he says. “It provides local control and provides continuity of services.” 
Hancuch says the county already has all the programs in place for offenders. And the probation department is already handling adult felons prior to sentencing. 
“If someone is arrested for a felony, my office does the bail evaluation and pretrial drug and alcohol testing if it’s court ordered. We put together a formal pretrial conditional release supervision program to supervise these adults prior to their sentence,” he says. “So we do everything with the adult felons up until the time they’re actually sentenced by the court. Once they’re found guilty then they’re supervised by the state.”
If the county switched to a CCA system, adult felons would be supervised by the county probation department.
“We have all the programs and services in place already, like adult cognitive restructuring programs, the adult Driving With Care Level 2 program  and all the drug testing in-house,” says Hancuch. “We would just plug these people in.”
The county would also have a more stable funding stream with a CCA, says Hancuch. Currently, the county depends on state reimbursements for 50% of probation officers’ salaries and benefits. But the state hasn’t paid the full 50% since 1996. Last year, the county received just 29%, its lowest reimbursement to date.
Under a CCA, the county would receive funding from the state that follows a specific formula based on population and percentage of felony case filings, juvenile case filings, gross misdemeanor filings and convicted felony offenders not sentenced to prison. That formula is also adjusted by the county’s net tax capacity and reviewed every three years.
“Over the past 12 years, CPO reimbursement has decreased by 14.97%,” says Hancuch. “But CCA funding increased by 5% over the last 12 years.”
And funding for a CCA is less likely to be cut in the future. By switching to a CCA, Sherburne County would join Hennepin, Ramsey, Anoka, Dakota, Stearns and 27 other counties.
“We’ll have a little more clout,” says Hancuch.
Should the county switch to a CCA, the probation department would take on supervision of 560 more inmates (already residing in the county) and five or six new staff. All probation officers, and Hancuch, are currently employees of the courts. They would become county employees.
The county would have some up-front costs, like computers, furniture and work space for the new staff. It also requires the establishment of a community corrections advisory board and an adult diversion program.
Hancuch says all four sitting judges and Sheriff Joel Brott support the change.
“The continuity, the communication, coordination collaboration would be enhanced,” he says. “And it enhances public safety because we have closer relationships with local law enforcement.”
Information on the CCA system is currently being reviewed by the county attorney’s office.
 
 

photos


George I. Florek

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