A new pilot project is aimed at changing the futures of people who use the most community services.
By following a model aimed at reducing the number of repeat customers at the Crow Wing County Jail, Crow Wing County Community Services plans to see if a difference may be made with a new approach in social services.
Gwen Anderson, Community Services supervisor, said the ultimate goal is to improve outcomes for people and reducing or avoiding the need for safety net services.
The pilot project is aimed at building on successes seen with the Release Advance Planning (RAP) program for jail inmates and Drug Court, where intense supervision is used in an effort to keep non-violent people from returning to the criminal justice system. For governmental entities, a benefit comes in reducing costs as participants make real changes in their lives.
Anderson said a former inmate who was successful with the RAP program wants to participate with this new pilot to show others the successful transition he’s made and give back to the community.
The RAP program has involved 30 participants to date. Inmates become involved before they are released and coordinators follow up with them, looking at services for housing, jobs, health and transportation. The goal is to keep those released inmates from returning to jail. It’s a cost savings to the county and an opportunity to turn lives around to a more productive alternative. The RAP program has a goal of keeping 20 percent of inmates from returning to jail during a one-year period.
Anderson said the success rate is 80 percent. Twenty-four of the participants have not returned to jail, the county reported.
The community services pilot program, approved Tuesday by the county board, identified the top 10 users of county community services. The one-year pilot proposes to offer a coordinated case management similar to RAP.
The team approach looks at what the individual or family needs are — whether its housing, employment, health or transportation — and then coordinating those services.
The county reported the goal is to eliminate duplication of services and with a team effort create a road map moving forward. Maybe they need help with parenting or job connections. Services will be tracked for unemployment, housing, abuse/neglect reports and health.
The county plans to compare service costs before and during the pilot judging success by measurements in employment, education, drug/alcohol treatment and mental health stability and child protection.
Anderson said initial costs may be higher but if dependence on services is reduced savings will be realized long term. Even if a 5, 10 or 20 percent improvement is made in the amount of resources consumed, Administrator Tim Houle said that could be a huge return on the investment.
Families, Houle said, may face multiple and intractable cases in arenas of employment, drug or alcohol dependency and trouble with the law.
In researching money spent on the top family consuming resources in the county, Houle said one is consuming about a quarter of a million dollars in resources a year.
“It would have been cheaper for us to write a check to each of the family members for about $30,000 and ask if they could figure it out on their own,” Houle said. “We can do better.”
Houle said the success indicators may be overly broad and general, and he suggested setting more measurable targets for education, employment, mental health, stability in child protection and drug treatment.
Commissioner Rachel Reabe Nystrom said she hopes the success is not measured in dollars and cents alone but in an improvement in people’s lives.
Commissioner Paul Thiede said he applauded the proposal and while it may sound overwhelmingly pessimistic, he questioned replicating RAP’s success without focusing all so much on the top 10, that other problems are exacerbated.
It ultimately comes down to dollars, Thiede said. “We only have so many resources to solve our problems.”
Anderson said the larger community, including Central Lakes College and Essentia Health St. Joseph’s Medical Center, is interested in being part of the project.
“The beauty behind this is our community is ready for this,” Anderson said.
Families in the top 10 will not be required to participate, but Anderson said she hopes the approach — noting the real success or failure of the program will be up to them — will motivate them to make a change and see how their future could be.
Thiede said the obstacles to success are significant and it may be harder to reach fourth and fifth generation families who have depended on social services. But Thiede said even the RAP program participants who returned to jail may not be viewed as a failure as they likely spread the word about the program itself to other inmates.
Of the new pilot program, Houle said: “I think this is a good step in the right direction to redesign how we do our work.”