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To curb recidivism, Washington County starts new dosage probation pilot

Washington County is part of a new pilot program that could change the way criminal offenders serve their sentences once they are prosecuted.

On Jan. 1, Washington County Community Corrections launched the new Dosage Probation program with the intent of lessening the amount of time certain — qualified — offenders spend on probation.

The idea, Community Corrections Director Tom Adkins said, is to provide structured intervention programs for offenders sentenced to Dosage Probation. The intervention programs are aimed at changing the behavior, thoughts, and temperament that led each offender to commit the crime for which he or she is serving time.

And not just changing those thoughts and habits on a temporary basis. Ultimately, the goal is to get the individual the help he or she needs to break free from those influences and lead a law abiding life.

“Dosage Probation focuses not on the time, but on the quality of intervention and the ability to change the criminal thinking and behavior patterns,” Adkins said.

Washington County is one of only two agencies in the nation named as a pilot for Dosage Probation. Napa, Calif., is the other location where the program is being implemented in 2016.

It’s a project of the National Institute of Corrections, based on years of research between the duration of probation offenders serve, and the intervention they receive during that time.

It identifies five thinking/needs patterns most offenders have: antisocial cognition (or, their thoughts and believes); antisocial personality (the temperament and coping skills); antisocial associates (the people they are around); family/marital influences; and substance abuse (drugs and alcohol).

A system-wide solution

In order to be considered for the pilot program, Washington County had to have support from all branches of law enforcement and the judicial system, Adkins said. It turned out that all 10 of Washington County’s judges thought the program would be beneficial, and agreed to participate.

Dosage Probation does not come into play until the sentencing phase of a trial. At that time, the judge will consider a series of criteria — the type of crime, the offender’s record, the severity of the crime and so on — and decide whether he or she feels the offender would benefit from Dosage Probation.

Certain types of crimes will not be eligible for sentencing through the program, however. For example, criminals found guilty of domestic violence, criminal sexual conduct, felony DWIs and murder would not be eligible to participate.

If a judge decides to place an offender in the program, the judge will determine how many hours of work the offender must do to complete his or her intervention requirements. The hours will range from 100 to 300, depending on the risk level — the risk of recidivism or, recurring criminal acts — each offender presents.

Entering the program, the offender will be evaluated on a number of criteria. From those evaluations, the probation officer will design a course of intervention specific to that individual’s needs.

The offender will be required to do work — and sometimes, very hard work at that — in his or her individual program in order to earn the hours he or she has been assigned. Depending on the sentence, the offender could be required to put in work time as little as once a week over three to six months, or up to three times per week over nine to 18 months.

“The probation officers will make decisions about what hours will count,” Adkins said. “If the time and effort isn’t there, or they’re not actively participating, the probation officer can say that time doesn’t count.

“This isn’t going to be easy for them. We’re talking some very hard work here. We know there will be people out there who would rather spend the time in jail than do the kind of work we have here,” he added.

The benefits

When an offender does complete the intervention under Dosage Probation, he or she will have sufficiently served the necessary probation time, and will be discharged from both the program, and the probation sentence.

What this means, Adkins said, is the offenders who enter the program could spend as much as half of the time on probation under Dosage Probation, as they would under normal probation guidelines. The amount of time spent on probation will be cut down, and the effective intervention will mean those offenders are not likely to commit crimes again.

If Washington County is successful in its implementation of the program, it could lead to an adjustment in how criminals are sentenced, and when and where and how they spend their sentence time.

Under the widely used sentencing structure now in place, Minnesota has some of the longest probation sentences and shortest jail sentences of any states, Adkins said. In some instances, offenders are placed on probation for up to 20 years, but receive little to no guidance to address the issues that led to their offenses in the first place. And placing people in jail offers very little chance for addressing the thoughts and behaviors that contributed to the criminal act in the first place, Adkins said.

Through Dosage Probation, Washington County will be able to reduce the amount of time offenders are placed on probation and help alleviate the chance of them committing another crime.

“This doesn’t mean we’re going to make perfect people, but we want to get them to the point where they’re not going to commit any more crimes,” Adkins said. “Our goal out of this is to have more people stay out of the system, long term. If we can control that, we’re better off than if we were to just have this group of people sit on probation for a couple of years.”

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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