County Hires JusticePoint to Coordinate Criminal Justice Programs
By Joe Morey
The Sawyer County Board of Supervisors last week entered into an agreement with JusticePoint, a non-profit dedicated to the promotion of evidence-informed criminal justice programs, practices, and policies, and its CEO and Co-founder, Nick Sayner, to replace Diane McNamer who recently retired as the Criminal Justice Coordinator.
The LCO Tribe contributes over $25,000 annually to the county’s Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee, in which Sayner explained to the Tribe he hopes to see that money used towards a tribal representative, “That could act as an advocate for tribal members and a liaison to the Criminal Justice Programs. I’m not 100% sure of the impact of this type of program or position could have but I would expect it to go a long way to ensuring that the disparities that are clearly evident in the criminal justice system are not ignored.”
The Lac Courte Oreilles Tribal Governing Board (TGB) heard a report from Sayner at their weekly meeting on June 29, regarding a Sawyer County Jail Assessment done in 2018. The assessment data was presented back then to the county showing those being held and what the risk factors are of those being held and concerning to the TGB at the time was that the report showed a disproportionate number of Natives are incarcerated in the Sawyer County Jail at 67%.
JusticePoint screened 186 pre-trial inmates and 68 post-conviction over a 90-day period in 2018. 64% were male and 36% were female, which Sayner noted was an unusually high number for females.
Sayner explained to LCO News about his proposal to the County Board and what JusticePoint could do for criminal justice programs.
“Our proposal is designed to make Sawyer County and the Tribe a safer and healthier community,” Sayner said. “That being said my biggest concerns are the substance use, abuse and mental health conditions identified in our data set paired with the clear over representation of tribal members involved in the criminal justice system. I wish I could say that our programs will turn all of these issues around overnight but it is going to be a long process.”
Sayner went on to say he believes the issues discovered through the jail assessment should be viewed as a public health issue and should be kept from the traditional criminal justice system as much as possible.
“The individuals involved should be referred to community or tribe-based programs and services that focus on these issues. The emerging research that is generated from the Treatment Alternatives and Diversion Grant seems to support this notion as well,” Sayner stated.
Sayner told the TGB in June what they found in the assessment was increased felonies, overcrowded jail, the high percentage of drug charges, lack of public defenders and a lot of money being spent shipping inmates to other counties.
“33% of the pre-trial screened inmates were for drug offenses. A significant number of cases were lower risk which is unusual for us to see,” Sayner said.
At JusticePoint, they have a risk factor scale of 1 to 4, with 4 being those who continually miss court and 1 being those who have missed one court or none, and 58% off all their screenings fit into that category with 12% as high risk.
“This tells me that we have low-risk people being held,” Sayner stated. “Our studies show that even two to three days of incarceration for low-risk people can have long-term impacts on whether a person becomes a factor in the criminal justice system.”
Sayner added, in his opinion, there needs to be a shift from more punitive to restorative justice.
Sayner told LCO News the first step after staff are hired, “And we start completing our day to day responsibilities, will be to ensure we can capture data. I think that should be relatively easy. The next step is to engage in a long term conversation with all of the stakeholders about the effectiveness of the current criminal justice system (based on the collected data) and develop new initiatives to improve it.”
Sayner went on to say, “My suspicion is that there are a number of ways that Sawyer County’s Criminal Justice System can be improved but I need to reserve judgement until we have an opportunity to work with everyone and see what the data tells us.”