A new report recognizes Salt Lake County for its efforts in criminal justice reform, but researchers found weaknesses in how it handles offenders with behavioral health disorders.
Researchers from the Council of State Governments Justice Center looked at data collected on people released from Salt Lake County jail over one year. The report found that offenders with mental illnesses stayed longer in jail and returned more frequently. It also found that county officials did not know whether those released with behavioral health disorders were connected to treatment and services. In general, researchers found a lack of data on the risks and needs of offenders.
Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill says the report confirms what he’s thought for several years.
“Our crime rates are going up, and our methodology of response is inadequate,” Gill says. “It is financially non-sustainable, and more importantly, it does not give us the measure of justice that we hope to get for the investments that we’re making.”
The report authors praised Sim Gill and other Salt Lake County leaders for their efforts with mental health court and specialized law enforcement training, but they said system-wide reform is needed to improve outcomes. Recommendations include screenings and assessment for mental illness, and a plan to connect those who need it to community-based behavioral health services. Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams says it’s clear what needs to happen.
“We need to better understand that population and figure out better ways to treat the root cause of what’s sending them to jail in order to keep them out of jail,” McAdams says. “That at the end of the day is the right thing to do fiscally, but it’s the right thing to do for the human beings who are in our custody.”
The thing that concerns McAdams now, though, is whether the county will have the resources to do what they know they should.