HJ/EDJuly 3, 2006

Probation officer elected to state office

By Linda Scherer
Staff Writer

When Margaret Kuske Munson graduated from Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted High School almost 20 years ago, she was thinking that she might like to be a lawyer.

Today, after making a few adjustments to her career plans, she is employed by Wright County Court Services as a probation officer.

She was recently elected president of the Minnesota Association of County Probation Officers (MACPO) beginning 2007. It is a three-year term, with the membership including more than 40 counties and close to 300 members.

“I love my job. I like working with people,” Munson said, something that she had found missing during her internship at the St. Louis County attorney’s office her junior year at the University of Minnesota, Duluth.

“It was very interesting, but not enough people contact,” Munson added.

After graduating in 1991 from UMD, with a degree in criminology and sociology, she worked for a number of years at both the Wright County and the Carver County jails as a work release coordinator. That position included verifying legitimate employment of men and women in jail who had the opportunity to work outside of jail.

In March 1995, she began working for Wright County Court Services.

Munson supervises the program unit, one of three units that are within Wright County Court Services. All the cases that the program unit handles are low-risk. The high-risk cases are sent to either the adult unit or juvenile unit.

The three units handle each of their case loads differently.

Munson and her staff of seven work with a case load of approximately 1,950 sentenced and pretrial offenders. Their job is to monitor the conditions set down by the Wright County judge.

All of the low-risk cases that the program unit monitors come to the courthouse and, because they are all in different phases, they report in groups on a specific check-in date. Only active cases report once a month.

Usually, there is some type of educational program that goes along with the meetings. The extension office has been helpful with classes offering information on how to manage finances, domestic abuse, chemical dependency, and others.

There are random drug test days “because it would be impossible to test everybody on a daily basis,” Munson said.

The program unit also handles reports to the judge, “Whatever information we think the court needs to have for the safety of the community,” Munson said.

Most cases are in the unit for anywhere from one to two years and the unit gets to really know the individuals.

Munson is a down-to-earth-type who seems to have the ability to understand and is non-judgmental in handling her cases.

“People make mistakes. They make changes and can move on with their lives,” Munson said of her caseload.

The adult unit and juvenile unit are handled traditionally. Its cases are seen on a regular basis, and meetings are mostly scheduled at a place of employment, home, or school; appointments are set to honor the needs of the individuals.

There are 14 staff members between the two units to handle approximately 1,000 high-risk adults and 400 juveniles.

“I did juvenile probation for the first four years I was here. The meth cases are a story every day, “ Munson said. “The juvenile unit has fewer cases, but with juveniles, you are not just dealing with the child, but the whole family system,” she added.

Home visits are made, as well. “You can learn 10 times more about an individual just by walking into their home, than by sitting in this office, just by things that you see,” Munson said.

Munson gave an example of a home visit made for an adult female in the adult unit who went to live with her dad. The father was notified that someone would come to visit their home, and when the agent got there, found three loaded shot guns on the table, out in the open. “Can’t help but wonder what they were thinking.”

“Wright County Court Services is a step above most. We still deal with every case on a one-to-one basis. Because you have a DWI and I have a DWI does not mean we have the same situation or the same individual problem,” Munson explained.

“The whole conditions of probation are tailored to what the risk needs of the person are, and I think that is pretty unique,” Munson said.

An organization that is one of Munson’s priorities is called Meth Education and Drug Awareness, (MEADA).

As a part of this group, she does a lot of public speaking about meth, what it is, and how to start organizations like MEADA in the rest of the state.

The organization is “pretty important to me because I see families or people that use this meth and it is just devastating to them and their families, more so than anything I have ever seen. My goal is to get out there and educate people to make them aware,” Munson said.

As far as the future of meth addicts, Munson said, “I have a lot more hope than before. Meth is extremely addictive and very hard to get off of – more so than alcohol. We are just discovering how to treat meth addictions.”

New Beginnings in Waverly has helped educate the department on understanding that the detox time takes longer, and the treatment is different. They are figuring it out. I feel more hopeful.”

Munson told a story of a woman who was in and out of jail. She was with a man selling meth out of a camper trailer and the trailer was busted. She had lost custody of her kids. When Munson first met her “I don’t think she had six teeth in her entire mouth. She was a tiny little thing, malnourished.”

The woman immediately said she was done. She wanted to get clean. She was put in a treatment program and worked with Network for Life, a Christian group run by two recovering alcoholics. Both had been in prison. They helped her with housing and employment.

After she had been working long enough to get insurance, the 42-year-old woman came back to see Munson and “she was beautiful before but now she had new teeth. Her transformation was amazing,” Munson said.

That process took about two years. Now, the woman is giving back by speaking to other addicts. She has partial custody of her kids again, and she has enough self-esteem that she is able to look a person in the eye when she talks to them.

“More and more, we are having success cases coming out of the meth group,” Munson said.

Family background

Munson grew up in Waverly, the daughter of Mike and Marilyn Kuske. She has one married sister, Michelle Zuelzke of Watertown.

Munson’s dad and sister are partners in an engineering company in Waverly, Wright Laser. “They are what I call engineering thinkers,” Munson said.

Her husband, Eric Munson, is also a HLWW High School graduate. They started dating when they were seniors in high school.

Eric works at Munson Lakes Nutrition in Howard Lake, once a family owned business.

They have two daughters, Abby, 8, and Alexandra, 6. Their home is north of Cokato.

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