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Salt Lake County Moves Forward with Criminal Justice Reform Levy

Andrea Smardon
Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams announces plans for criminal justice reform with District Attorney Sim Gill and Sheriff Jim Winder.

The Salt Lake County Council gave preliminary approval for a property tax levy Tuesday to fund criminal justice reform. In total, homeowners will be providing 9.4 million dollars a year.

The average Salt Lake County homeowner is expected to pay 2 dollars per year for criminal justice programs. Mayor Ben McAdams says the county has been operating for too long without the resources needed to fix the corrections system.

“We can no longer afford to tread water when it comes to addressing our broken criminal justice system,” McAdams says.  

Last year, the county jail saw a 17 percent increase in the number of new felony charge bookings. Sheriff Jim Winder estimates that more than 7500 individuals will be released from jail this year due to overcrowding, and he says many of them will end up back in jail.

“It is a system that we cannot tolerate in this county anymore, where we simply bring human beings in, process them, and kick them to the curb,” Winder says.

County officials say the levy will fund a new community corrections center designed to rehabilitate low-level offenders. New resources also will go into substance abuse and mental health treatment as alternatives to incarceration. Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill says with the population growth that’s projected, it’s not possible to keep incarcerating all offenders.  

“If we do not do the interventions that we’re talking about, we’ll simply have to build more jail beds, and fiscally and financially, we can’t sustain that,” Gill says.

The County Council voted 8 to 1 in favor of the levy. Councilmember Jenny Wilson says there is widespread agreement now is the time to move forward.

“We do have the political will, and now we have the funding,” Wilson says.  

County officials say: homeowners should know that they will not see any change in their taxes. The County will pay off its jail construction bond at the end of this year. So tax dollars that were once going to the jail will now go to reform.

Andrea Smardon is new at KUER, but she has worked in public broadcasting for more than a decade. Most recently, she worked as a reporter and news announcer for WGBH radio. While in Boston, she produced stories for Morning Edition, Marketplace Money, and The World. Her print work was published in The Boston Globe and Prior to that, she worked at Seattleââ
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