Utah lawmakers this year authorized millions of dollars to be used for criminal justice reform. Counties across the state are putting together their proposals right now on how they would use the funds. But Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder isn’t waiting for state approval. He’s already allocated nearly a million dollars for a new probation unit.
As a result of Utah’s Justice Reinvestment Initiative, more than 5 million dollars will be distributed for assessment and treatment of offenders. But there is also 2.5 million dollars available for other projects. That’s where Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder saw an opportunity.
“We have been struggling mightily with a variety of pressures, not the least of which is obviously an overcrowding situation, but also a real revolving door problem," Winder says. "Under the Justice Reinvestment Initiative we saw an opportunity to strike while the iron was hot.”
Sheriff Winder says he’s creating a new probationary unit. The idea is that many people who would have gone to jail for low-level offenses should be released back into the community under supervision. He’s selected five officers and a sergeant dedicated to this task. They start July 1st.
“Right now, we’ve got 2000 human beings that sit over in that jail. 500 of them ought to be back out in the community under supervision at any given time, I’ll just tell you that right now," Winder says. "Our staff knows it, law enforcement knows it, I think every citizen in the county knows it. The problem is we don’t have resources to do it.”
Winder says he’s not asking the county for more money. He’s using almost a million dollars out of his budget to fund the new probationary unit. He’s hoping that when the state allocates the new justice reinvestment money that his department will be reimbursed. And if his approach proves successful, Winder says he hopes the state legislature will not only sustain the funding, but increase it.