Chapter 7: Ramsey County, Minnesota

BACKGROUND

Ramsey County, Minnesota, has a population of 538,133 (2015 U.S. Census Bureau). Its county seat is Saint Paul, which is also Minnesota’s state capital. Its racial makeup is 69.3% white, 11.9% black or African American, 14.4% Asian, and 7.4% Hispanic or Latino of any race (2015 U.S. Census Bureau). The median household income is $56,104, and 15.1% of the population lives at or below the poverty line (2015 U.S. Census Bureau).

Ramsey County has more than a dozen law enforcement agencies, including the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office (Minnesota’s first law enforcement agency) and Saint Paul Police Department. The Saint Paul Police Department, the county’s largest law enforcement agency, averages about 247,000 calls for service a year (City of Saint Paul Police Crime Report 2015). The Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office runs the Adult Detention Center (ADC), a 500-bed facility that houses pretrial defendants and probation and parole violators. The sheriff’s office is also responsible for providing court services (court security, warrants, civil process, gun permits, and summons bookings), protecting the county’s waterways, and delivering community services. Ramsey County is a Community Corrections Act county; as such, the county is administratively responsible for providing misdemeanor and felony probation and parole supervision and correctional services. The community corrections department is responsible for operating the Ramsey County Correctional Facility, a 556-bed post-conviction institution, housing inmates serving sentences of one year or less.

The county attorney and the county sheriff are elected every four years, while judges are elected every six years. Appointed criminal justice leaders include the director of community corrections, the chief public defender, city attorneys, and city chiefs of police.

  Profile of Ramsey County’s Justice System

2015

  Adult Detention Center Bookings (Pretrial)

21,057

  Adult Detention Center Daily Population

359

  County Correctional Facility Bookings (Post-Conviction)

4,109

  County Correctional Facility Daily Population

347

  Felony Cases Filed

2,994

  Misdemeanor Cases Filed

15,486

  Adult Community Corrections Admissions

5,917

  Adult Community Corrections Population Served

19,282

Ramsey County’s past experiences working on successful interagency initiatives, such as the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) and the St. Paul Blueprint for Safety, led to its selection as a pilot site.

RAMSEY COUNTY’S EBDM VISION, MISSION, AND TEAM

As an EBDM pilot site, Ramsey County’s criminal justice leaders agreed to work together to address broad systemic policy issues. The Ramsey County EBDM Policy Team included the following stakeholders:

  • the county sheriff;
  • the county attorney;
  • a county commissioner;
  • the chief judge of the Second Judicial District Court;
  • the county community corrections director;
  • the chief of the Saint Paul Police Department;
  • the chief public defender of the Second Judicial District Court;
  • the city attorney for the City of Saint Paul;
  • the county pretrial services executive director;
  • the county chief deputy sheriff;
  • the first assistant county attorney;
  • a deputy city attorney for the City of Saint Paul;
  • the executive director of the state Office of Justice Programs; and
  • representatives from victim services organizations.

Ramsey County’s vision for the EBDM initiative is: “One less crime. One less victim. One less offender. A strategy for safer communities.”

RAMSEY COUNTY’S CHANGE TARGETS

“The policy review, system mapping, and data analysis exercises required as part of this initiative were valuable. Each exercise served to foster teamwork and collaboration. Through these assessments, we were able to identify areas for improvement and establish performance metrics to ensure outcomes were consistent with community values.”

–Kyle Mestad, Director of Planning & Policy, Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office

As the Ramsey County Policy Team worked through the EBDM Phase II planning roadmap, they assessed their policies and practices at each of the EBDM decision points through a systemwide mapping exercise and considered the degree to which their decisions were informed by research. The result was the identification of a number of strengths, challenges, and targets for policy and practice change. The team created work groups to focus on three substantive areas: arrest and law enforcement, pretrial diversion, and pleas and sentencing. The individual work groups developed logic models and implementation plans, and advanced recommendations for policy and practice change to the EBDM policy team. Two of the efforts prioritized by the policy team in support of achieving their harm reduction goals are the focus of this case study:

  • expanding eligibility for a misdemeanor diversion program; and
  • developing structured responses to pretrial violations.
  • Through the system mapping process, the Ramsey County EBDM Policy Team became aware that, despite the availability of diversion options post-arraignment, there were limited options prior to arraignment. It was determined that affording selected defendants an alternative to prosecution could produce several benefits, including reducing the collateral consequences of conviction while still holding defendants accountable and potentially reducing the number of court hearings.

    Through NIC-supported technical assistance, Ramsey County conducted a study to validate the Proxy tool on the local population and to determine who might be appropriate for diversion (Tammy Meredith, 2014). A random sample of 200 misdemeanants processed through the city court in 2008 who were subsequently rearrested during a three-year follow-up period were identified. The study revealed that individual items on the tool varied in their correlation to recidivism within the local lower level misdemeanor population. For instance, the study revealed that the data element “current age” was not significantly correlated to recidivism among the local population. And while the element “age at first arrest” did correlate, the number of prior adult arrests was the most predictive factor for Ramsey County low level misdemeanor cases.

    The results from the study provided helpful information for redefining eligibility for the St. Paul misdemeanor diversion program and, as a result, the city attorney and local pretrial agency, Project Remand, adjusted the program’s eligibility criteria. The revised criteria of two convictions or less in a lifetime represented a significant change in policy; previously, only defendants with no prior record were eligible for diversion.

    To further align the diversion program with the risk principle, the number (and type) of requirements placed on diversion participants was reduced. Finally, to allow for swifter processing, diversion cases were removed from heavy arraignment calendars and placed on a special administrative calendar.

    In March 2015, the St. Paul City Attorney’s Office (SPCAO) Criminal Division launched its new diversion program for misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor criminal cases. Under the new program, the city attorney can recommend diversion for defendants with no more than two nonviolent convictions. Qualifying offenses include criminal trespass, criminal damage to property, theft, visiting a disorderly house, and operating a disorderly house. On a case-by-case basis, other offenses are accepted for diversion. If the defendant agrees to participate, he or she does not enter a guilty plea and is required to complete certain conditions, such as community work service or educational programs, within a specific period of time. If the defendant successfully complies, the criminal case is dismissed. Failure to comply results in traditional prosecution of the case.

    The diversion program is well-supported by local justice partners, including the Ramsey County District Court judges, Project Remand, and the public defender’s office.

    RESULTS

    Since March 2015, the city attorney’s office has referred 889 cases to the diversion program; 377 of referred defendants accepted the diversion offer. The majority (78%) of defendants who accepted the offer of diversion successfully completed all conditions.

  • Data analysis during Ramsey County’s Phase II work revealed a high volume of active warrants. A close examination revealed a total of 12,000 warrants issued in CY 2011, a practice that was determined to be a customary first response to failure to appear, probation violation, and new criminal charges for pretrial defendants and post-conviction offenders. Out of concern for the sheer volume of warrants—as well as their impact on law enforcement and court case processing—the team agreed to a pilot project that would explore alternatives to conditional release violations. Following a similar effort implemented for probation violators, the team formed a subcommittee of representatives from pretrial, defense, prosecution, and community corrections. The group defined the range of pretrial violation behaviors, scaled them by severity level, and identified available responses. They developed a pretrial violation response worksheet to guide pretrial case manager decision making. A pretrial condition violation behavior chart was also developed to assist case managers in determining the level of seriousness of the violation behavior as follows:

    • Low: Client demonstrates a lapse in judgment.
    • Medium: Client demonstrates a lack of motivation to comply with expectations.
    • High: Client demonstrates either ongoing violations or willful disregard for complying, such as a new arrest for a serious charge.

    Case managers use the bail evaluation score, in combination with the violation severity, to determine a presumptive response level (i.e., low, medium, or high) using a prescribed set of pretrial violation responses. If the case manager recommends a response outside of the presumptive level, the reasons for requesting a departure are documented through the identification of aggravating or mitigating factors; supervisors must review and approve departures.

    Results

    In February 2013, Ramsey County began a study of its Pretrial Conditions Violations Matrix pilot project. Analyses of 8 months of data identified 255 violation cases and revealed that the majority of violations were committed by medium risk defendants (74.1%) and that more than half of the violations were low severity violations (54.9%).

    “As a result of [our work developing structured responses to pretrial violations], I am confident that the pretrial agents are responding appropriately to every violation and in accordance with the research that calls for a measured response that takes into account both the risk level of the defendant and the seriousness of the violation.”
    –Mary Pat Maher, Executive Director, Project Remand

    The most common violation behaviors included failure to call in at the assigned time (27.6%), failure to report on time for urinalysis or breathalyzers (17.5%), and repeated failures to comply with a reporting or contact condition (17.5%). In 9.2% of the cases, the violation was for new arrests resulting in new charges (excluding nonviolent misdemeanor or traffic/alcohol-related driving arrests).

    The recommended response levels to these behaviors were: 1.6% high, 30.2% medium, and 53.7% low. The most common responses included verbal warning (35.2%), report for urinalysis or breathalyzer immediately (14.0%), and report in person (10.6%). Override requests were made in 25 cases (9.8% of the time).

    Following the pilot, it was determined that violation worksheets would only be completed for medium and high severity cases. That practice continues today, as does the use of the pretrial violation matrix.

MOVING FORWARD

“The principles established during our EBDM journey created an ongoing mutual commitment to continuously improve our justice system. Specifically, we founded the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (CJCC) and harnessed the momentum created through EBDM. As a result, we are continuing to improve our short-term and long-term criminal justice outcomes.”
–Matt Bostrom, Ramsey County Sheriff and First Chair of the CJCC

Through the EBDM process, members of the Ramsey County Policy Team recognized the importance of meeting regularly to discuss criminal justice system issues and practices. They also agreed to the importance of information and data to support problem solving and effective decision making. Using the EBDM policy team as a foundation, the county’s criminal justice leaders formed a Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (CJCC); its membership includes multidisciplinary leadership from across the justice system. It serves as a permanent decision making body officially sanctioned by the Board of Commissioners and the Second Judicial District. The CJCC meets regularly. In 2015, priorities for the CJCC included reducing the number of active warrants in the county (including holding a Warrant Resolution Day), enhancing performance measures, improving data integration across the county’s justice agencies, and improving communication and community engagement.