Salt Lake County Launches Sweeping Study of Jail Population

SALT LAKE CITY, UT – Aug. 13, 2014 – The Criminal Justice Advisory Council (CJAC) today announced plans for a comprehensive analysis of Salt Lake County’s jail population in an effort to identify ways to reduce re-offense rates among people released from jail and design strategies to improve outcomes for the large portion of the jail population struggling with mental and substance abuse disorders.

Partnering with the Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, CJAC will examine various aspects of the county’s justice system, including the courts, jails, pre-trial 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. For the next six months, the CSG Justice Center will 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,” said Mayor Ben McAdams. “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 abuse treatment, that’s what we should employ.”

Approximately 2,150 adults are locked up in the Salt Lake 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, 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.

Meanwhile, the state’s Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice (CCJJ) recently began its justice reinvestment initiative with the Pew Charitable Trusts, which is exploring strategies to slow the growth of the state’s prison population, reduce corrections spending, and increase public safety.

“At the same time we’re working on improving state criminal justice policy, we’re excited to see Salt Lake County make a commitment to an evidence-based approach to look at their own system,” said Ron Gordon, the commission’s executive director.

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 regions 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.

“We applaud Salt Lake County’s leadership,” said Denise E. O’Donnell, director of the Bureau of Justice Assistance. “Working across the criminal justice and behavioral health systems to develop research-based policies will serve as a model for other counties not only in the state, but throughout the country.”

About the CSG Justice Center

The Council of State Governments Justice Center is a national nonprofit organization that serves policymakers at the local, state, and federal levels from all branches of government. The CSG Justice Center provides practical, nonpartisan advice and evidence-based, consensus-driven strategies to increase public safety and strengthen communities. These efforts, in partnership with The Pew Charitable Trusts and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, have provided similar data-driven analyses and policy options to state leaders in 18 other states to date.