Judge Ross Leuning, Freeborn County, informed the county board at their June 4 meeting about the establishment of a Third Judicial District Veterans Treatment Court. Leuning explained that the Treatment Court is an intensive probationary program. It is a specialty court that provides for treatment rather than incarceration to prevent future illegal activity. A successful program can save dollars.
Captain Leuning is uniquely qualified to lead in the establishment of the Treatment Court. He retired from the military in 2018 after almost 38 years of service. Leuning was appointed by Governor Mark Dayton in 2011 to serve as District Court Judge in Minnesota’s Third Judicial District.
In 2017 Leuning was asked, as the only veteran on the bench, to spearhead the creation of an 11 county Third Judicial District Veterans Treatment Court. The Treatment Court’s first session was in March 2019.
The 11 counties include Rice, Steele, Waseca, Freeborn, Mower, Dodge, Olmsted, Fillmore, Houston, Wabasha, and Winona. This Court works with veterans in legal trouble. It helps veterans work through issues including, but not limited to, addiction, mental health issues, domestic abuse, and PTSD. The Court works with the VA and their Veterans Justice Outreach Officers to get the veterans’ “lives back on track.”
In 2007 in Buffalo, N.Y., Judge Robert Russell in drug court noticed a veteran was not responding. He asked bailiffs with a military background to speak with the veteran, after which the veteran did respond. The judge then segregated veterans to a court process specifically for veterans. The success rate was 90%; nine out of 10 did not reoffend. Treatment Court proved to be more effective than general probation.
The Treatment Court seeks to resolve the underlying issues that lead to criminal behavior. The experiment has proven to be very successful, as there are now 460 Veterans Treatment Courts nationwide. The Court connects veterans with VA medical care and suicide prevention programs. Seventy percent of veterans that commit suicide have never been in contact with the VA. Volunteer mentors follow the veterans in Treatment Court, providing support and guidance. They are considered key in helping justice-involved veterans succeed.
Leuning explained that the Third Judicial District Veterans Treatment Court held in Steele County is now operating on a small scale. There has been an application for federal funding. They will learn later in the summer if they are awarded the federal grant. They have also applied to the state to be sanctioned as a Treatment Court in Minnesota, which will allow them to be eligible for state funding.
With the federal grant they will be able to expand into two locations, western and eastern half of the district. Fillmore County is the likely location for the eastern five counties. Leuning noted that Fillmore County has been informally leading on this through its county attorney Brett Corson and VSO Jason Marquardt.
Chairman Duane Bakke asked if the federal grants are one time only. Leuning said there is an initial federal grant and a supplemental after three years. At the end of a six-year period the court will be eligible for state funding. Leuning said after six to eight years we will know if the program is successful. The federal government evaluates the success of these programs.
Leuning added if the program is really successful, eventually, there may be an opportunity for county funding. In this case the funding will be divided among the 11 counties and based on the per capita use of the Court.
Leuning concluded with veterans statistics that are very concerning: one in six have PTSD, one in five have substance abuse issues, every day 20 veterans commit suicide, and in Minnesota veterans age 18 to 34 commit suicide 4.5 times the national average. Leuning said we can literally save lives by getting these veterans connected. The Treatment Court is one possible answer, as we see them in the early stages of dysfunction.
Other business in brief
•Brandon Schad, DNR, requested approval to purchase from Karl Smaby a small parcel (.9 acre) for an access drive, adjacent to the existing Choice Wildlife Management Area. It would allow access for management and maintenance of the area, as well as public access.
Preble Township supervisors were supportive of the purchase. The purchase will made with Reinvest in Minnesota funding and was approved by the board.
•Alissa Oeltjenbruns, Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation, thanked the board for past contributions to SMIF. She reviewed the work SMIF does centering around economic development, early childhood support, and community development. More economic growth can be created through work with entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs. SMIF’s goal is to have every child ready to enter kindergarten. Grants are made to communities under 5,000 population to help keep them vibrant and strong. SMIF acts as the fiscal host for community foundation programs.
•Sheriff John DeGeorge discussed the Sentence to Serve (STS) two-year contract with the state and the Institution Community Work Crew (ICWC) two year contract with the state. Both were approved. The total for the STS contract will not exceed $140,000. The cap for the ICWC contract is $225,000; the county gets $55 per day for each state inmate it houses.
•Changes to the county’s employment policy and the announcements, recruitment, and selection policy were discussed. Both policies will be brought back to the next meeting.
A request to retire through the Early Retirement Incentive Program by Kathy Thiss, Public Health, was approved with thanks for her 10 years of service, effective May 30.
•There were five bids submitted to the county engineer for the Carimona Township Bridge replacement project on Jack Pine Rd. The lowest bid submitted by Minnowa Construction in the amount of $199,717.19 was approved. The engineer’s estimate was over $226,000.
•Auditor/treasurer Heidi Jones updated the board on the refund ordered by the Tax Court. Minnesota Energy Resources Corporation (MERC) took Minnesota Department of Revenue to court over valuations and won the lawsuit. MERC will need to be reimbursed for taxes paid 2009-2013 and 2014-2018. This involves 20 parcels within the county. Reimbursement including 4% interest will total $234,749.99. The total will be sent to MERC this Friday, June 7, to avoid further interest charges. Jones said she doesn’t think it will have the massive impact that she initially believed it would. The total refund will be split among the county, school districts, townships/cities, and state. Jones expects the state will be footing over half of the refund total.
Jones said she will calculate the numbers for each taxing jurisdiction. After which, the board can decide on a reimbursement plan and time period for recovering funds from each of the taxing jurisdictions.