By Rachel Leber
MANKATO, Minn. — With the highest incarceration rate in the world, the U.S. is well-positioned to seek solutions to unnecessary incarceration. The Yellow Line Project (YLP), a program created at the Blue Earth County Justice Center in Mankato, was recently recognized by the Association of Minnesota Counties (AMC) with a 2017 County Achievement Award for exhibiting excellence and innovation for their efforts in this area.
The county achievement award was presented to YLP — and four other Minnesota organizations — at the AMC’s annual conference on Dec. 4 in St. Cloud, Minn., by Gary Hendrickx, AMC president and Swift County commissioner. Award recipients were nominated by their counties and selected by a committee of county officials.
The Yellow Line Project started in fall 2015, and brings together county human services, law enforcement agencies and the regional mobile crisis team to provide individualized diversion options for people with chemical dependency or mental health problems. A request for funding was submitted to DHS that same year and was subsequently awarded for 2016 with the goal of replicating the model in other counties.
What is particularly unique about the program is that interventions are inserted during the very short window of time that takes place between a person being detained and being booked. Unlike many other programs designed to reduce the number of people being incarcerated each year, this program does not wait until people are already behind bars. It offers support before a person is booked, thus ideally reducing the number of people that are locked up in the first place.
The Yellow Line name was adopted in late 2016, signifying the yellow line that exists between the pre-booking area and the intake area of the jail, according to the YLP website. This line is significant, as crossing this line indicates a change in a person’s constitutional rights as they enter incarceration. As such, the project’s goal is to frontload services before the crossing of the yellow line so that law enforcement and individuals can consider alternatives to incarceration, as once that line is crossed, services come in the form of pre-trial, jail-based and re-entry services.
The YLP program has created a culture shift in law enforcement in the Blue Earth County Justice Center, which includes law enforcement being more open in their planning options, human services aligning their skills and resources with law enforcement, and ultimately saving real dollars for taxpayers through efficiencies and by “simply doing things that make sense,” according to a recent statement.
Direct savings in hospitalization and detox costs, reduced use of jail beds, and reduced reliance on corrections and court services have been recorded by the county since the implementation of the YLP. Additionally, higher use of mobile crisis services and direct treatment services has been observed by the county.
In addition to AMC County Achievement Award, the Yellow Line Project was also a recipient of the 2017 Minnesota Local Government Innovation Awards (LGIA), an award that recognizes the creative ways counties, cities, townships, schools and Native nations are “making Minnesota better and doing things differently,” according to the website.
The award was presented to YLP and the other winners of the award on Dec. 7 at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs in Minneapolis where the awards ceremony took place. The winners — including YLP — in each of the four categories received a professional video highlighting their work and a $5,000 grant.