Salt Lake County Launches Study of Criminal Justice System

June 11, 2015

The Salt Lake County Criminal Justice Advisory Council (CJAC) today announced plans for a comprehensive analysis of the county’s jail population in an effort to identify ways to reduce reoffense rates among people released from jail and design strategies to improve outcomes for the large portion of the jail population struggling with mental and/or substance use disorders.

Partnering with the CSG Justice Center, CJAC will examine various aspects of the county’s justice system, including the courts, jails, pretrial services, probation, and community-based treatment programs. By the end of 2014, the CSG Justice Center will submit to CJAC a recommended approach for measuring key aspects of these systems’ performance. The CSG Justice Center will then work with CJAC to assess performance in each of these areas and recommend strategies for improvement. A final report will be submitted by August 2015.

“To fulfill our jobs of keeping the public safe and getting the best return on spending taxpayer dollars, we need to learn more about who is in our jail and why,” Mayor Ben McAdams (pictured left) said prior to the announcement at CJAC’s weekly meeting. “Through this project, I want to assemble the data to begin to tell us what’s working or not working with respect to the people we’re incarcerating. If there is a better remedy than returning someone to a jail cell, whether it’s mental health or substance use treatment, that’s what we should employ.”

Approximately 2,150 adults are locked up in the county jail on any given day. Last year, more than 32,703 people were admitted and released from the jail. Like county governments everywhere, Salt Lake County officials are finding that many of these adults have mental health needs.

“Talk to a corrections officer in our jail and they’ll tell you that more and more people with mental health needs are entering our jail.” Sheriff Jim M. Winder said. “But we don’t have data that give us a precise description of what the mental health needs are of this population. This study will address that gap, providing us with a roadmap of the types of mental health services and community-based supervision the county should deliver if we’re going to improve upon our existing approach.”

The analysis builds on Salt Lake County officials’ ongoing efforts to improve the criminal justice system.

“Our Early Case Resolution (ECR) Court has enabled us to dispose of a large collection of cases within 30 days, as opposed to the standard four to six months,” said Sim Gill (pictured right), the county’s district attorney. “We’ve already started on a path to making our system more efficient, and this project will help identify different policies and programs to work with ECR to ensure that the proper treatments and services are being matched to the needs of the population.”

With the expedited process provided by ECR, county officials are also interested in improving the early assessments of individuals to allow judges to make more informed sentencing decisions.

The Utah Association of Counties and National Association of Counties are working closely with the CSG Justice Center to ensure that the lessons learned in Salt Lake County are shared with other jurisdictions in Utah and elsewhere. The project is made possible through support provided by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance and the Jacob & Valeria Langeloth Foundation, both of which have previously supported similar initiatives in other counties around the country.

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