Minnesota legislators are looking to extend a privately run driver’s license reinstatement program, despite inflated success rates and growing concern that the program took money from suspended motorists without getting them their license back.
Diversion Solutions is the state’s largest program to help motorists get their licenses reinstated after they’ve been convicted of drunken driving or driving without a license. The Red Wing company has contracted with 123 cities and 16 counties since 2009, with the state allowing a nifty incentive — motorists in the program can continue driving while paying off fines and fees.
“Not only did we fulfill our commitment, but we exceeded our projections pledge,” CEO Scott Adkisson said in a Jan. 18 letter to legislators.
The program touts itself as a way for motorists who had a brush with the law to get their lives back together, allowing them to keep jobs when they might otherwise be unable to drive. It also aims to reduce the number of unlicensed drivers while helping local governments collect millions of dollars in unpaid fees and fines.
Police departments and prosecutors routinely refer drivers to Diversion Solutions, which charges a motorist $350 for the opportunity to pay off their fines through installments.
Diversion Solutions is supposed to check with the state to make sure the driver qualifies for its service, then collect monthly payments that go toward paying old fees and fines.
But not all of its numbers add up. The program boasts an 82 percent success rate, which it considers those “graduated, active or waiting.” But Department of Public Safety data shows that only 223 of the 27,308 drivers who applied to the program successfully completed it — a rate of less than 1 percent. That means many motorists in the program end up in an endless cycle of making payments to the company without getting their full driving privileges back.
The company says in its brochure that it has reinstated licenses of 12,000 drivers since 2009. But DPS data shows that only 4,589 drivers got their licenses back.
“I can’t explain the discrepancy,” Adkisson said in a phone interview. In an e-mail, he revised his reinstatement number to 9,235 drivers.
The numbers are concerning to DPS officials, who cited a “statistically low success rate” in an internal memo urging an audit of the program in 2017. They also expressed dismay that the proposed legislation does not require a detailed review. According to public safety documents, many people in the program do not get insurance, which means they can’t drive, but continue to pay Diversion Solutions.
A 2016 DPS review of the program found Diversion Solutions continued to accept payments from participants even though subsequent tickets disqualified them from the program.
Diversion Solutions said just 6 percent of those in the program reoffend, but “DVS records indicate a much higher recidivism rate,” according to a memo by Liam Powell, who supervises the driver’s license reinstatement program in DPS’ Driver and Vehicle Services division.
“The most jarring information I uncovered was that Diversion Solutions was setting up payment plans and taking payments without reinstating the driver,” wrote Powell, who then called for an audit.
Powell reiterated that the whole purpose of the program is to ensure motorists can continue driving while they were paying off fines. “Unfortunately, this is not working,” he wrote. He added that “Diversion Solutions appears to be enrolling ineligible participants in their program without being reinstated.”
DPS spokesman Bruce Gordon declined to make top officials available for an interview, adding that the department “is neutral on the legislation.”
Asked about the DPS concerns, Adkisson said he was not collecting money from drivers who were no longer eligible to be reinstated. “If they are not in the program, we aren’t billing them,” he said.
It’s not clear how the proposal will fare in the final hours of the legislative session, which is bogged down in budget negotiations.
The measure’s chief sponsor, Rep. Nick Zerwas, R-Elk River, revised the proposal to require an audit after being told of the complaints. Zerwas said he sponsored the legislation after being approached by Minneapolis city officials who touted its success.
At a legislative hearing this year, Minneapolis City Attorney Susan Segal urged lawmakers to make the program permanent, calling it “very successful” in helping people who are poor pay off their tickets and get their driving privileges restored.
In an interview, Segal provided statistics that showed a remarkable success rate but acknowledged that the information came from Diversion Solutions. Segal said that the discrepancies, as well as the concerns by DVS, “should be explored and answered.”
“The legislation is not tied to a single provider nor would the city support such a provision,” she said.
Although the legislation at the Capitol does not name a specific vendor, Diversion Solutions is the major player in the market.
If the measure passes, the city will request bids for the work, seeing if other companies wish to participate, Segal said.
Diversion Solutions has also been chosen by Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman to run a diversion program for first-time nonviolent drug and property offenders. The County Board is expected to make its decision Tuesday.
Randy Furst • 612-673-4224