Thursday, April 26, 2018

NDACo Asked to Testify on Justice Reinvestment Impacts to Counties

NDACo was asked to speak to the interim Justice Reinvestment Committee regarding reactions to the Justice Reinvestment initiatives that were rolled out in a series of bills passed in the 2017 Legislative Session that addressed reducing incarceration; primarily at the state level. Aaron Birst drew from his conversations with State's Attorneys on the impacts of the legislation. He told the committee the reduced sentences have worked well and have not been too problematic. However the presumptive probation legislation has created some issues for prosecutors. This law mandates most first time C Felony offenders must only receive probation instead of any prison/jail time.

"County prosecutors 100% support Justice Reinvestment. The $7 million budgeted for community programs in 2017 is just not enough," said Birst. "Prosecutors are also very concerned about proposed budget cuts that Governor Doug Burgum suggested when he released his budget guidelines to state agencies last week. In particular, counties believe funding cuts to the juvenile court system would be detrimental." 

As a follow up, NDACo informed the committee about the establishment of the County Working Group on Justice Reinvestment that recently held a session to identify potential concepts or models that any county in the state could implement as alternatives to jail. The working group was made up of 22 county officials from across the state and from various county capacities including: Sheriffs, Commissioners, Jail Administrators, State's Attorneys, a Social Service Director, Public Health director and a County Administrator.

The working group was set up to assist counties in complying with legislation passed last session that requires counties to develop a local inmate population plan to prioritize admissions. ND DOCR and ND DHS presented on programs and resources that are available and being used to address alternatives at the state level.

A report highlighting the key findings from this planning session is being compiled. We highly anticipate policy will be developed to provide assistance for the local effort of addressing alternatives and expanding behavior health programs.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Human Services Committee Talks Behavior Health & Social Services

The Human Services Committee has gathered to work through a full two-day agenda. The start of their work included the first ever review on the next phase of the state's behavior health system. Human Services Research Institute (HSRI) has been contracted for this task. They presented some of their findings and identified potential first steps in implementing their recommendations.
During the presentation, HSRI identified that in North Dakota in 2017 $59 million of state and federal dollars was spent on mental health treatment. About $19 million was spent on substance use treatment. HSRI has found that most of the dollars in both these areas are spent on the most expensive services. They recommend the state continue exploring ways to improve behavior health services provided to individuals who have been involved in the justice system.

In addition, the committee received an update on the "Social Service Redesign" project from DHS Director Chris Jones. He emphasized that the project is really focused on redesigning a system to focus on the client by improving the system in an more efficient and effective manner so that the client receives better service. He told the committee roles may change and the roles may not look the same everywhere. Chairwoman Representative Kathy Hogan called this a comprehensive revamp of the whole system at the state and county level.
"This is one of the largest structural changes we have looked at in a long-time," said Hogan.
"This started out as a financial move, but I am excited to see how it has blossomed into a total system review," said Senator Judy Lee.
NDACo Interim Director, Terry Traynor was asked how the counties are responding to the Social Services Redesign project. Traynor told the committee that since the beginning of 2018, 19 committees have met for day-long meetings that involve 60 individuals from both county social services and DHS.
"From my perception, the counties are excited that the redesign project is focusing on how services can be delivered to the client better," said Traynor. "There may have been anxiety of our county folks going into this project, but through this process the anxiety has lessened and enthusiasm has grown, this is definitely not just a funding question anymore."