New Salt Lake County Jail program aims to keep people from becoming reoffenders
Salt Lake County unveiled its new resource center for people being released from the county jail Thursday afternoon. Officials say it’s the first in-house program of its kind in the country.
The Salt Lake County Jail Resource Reentry program provides wrap around services for formerly incarcerated people. It’s a temporary waiting area where people who are being released can charge their phones, eat snacks, get legal advice, mental health or substance abuse referrals.
Before the in-house center existed, many people would walk across the street to the former gas station, Maverik, to be picked up or to access these basic necessities.
Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson said this program will give people the tools they need to be successful. The jail soft launched the facility in April, and Wilson said it has so far assisted about 650 individuals.
“We want to protect our public, we also want to have accountability for crimes committed. But once one leaves, don't we all benefit by showing some services and humanity?” Wilson said. “And that's what's being shown to these people. I have no doubt this is probably the best investment we have made to date to move the needle.”
According to Salt Lake County Human Services, 80% of inmates are incarcerated for less than a month and of that 74% will be re-arrested. The goal of the center is to help former inmates transition back into the community by offering access to these services and providing support to stabilize their lives and not reoffend.
“We know that the ongoing cycle where we see people come and visit here again and again is expensive to our system and our taxpayers. Not only is this the compassionate and wise thing to do, it's a cost effective thing,” she said.
The program is funded by a federal grant and the county’s general fund. Officials said it will cost about $2 million a year to operate.
Salt Lake County Sheriff Rosie Rivera said it’s a liability for the county when people reoffend, and that’s more likely to happen when they don’t have the right support.
“When you're booked in jail, it's probably the hardest day in your life. Many times it is. But then when you get released, depending on the time frame [of] when you get released, you may not have the same family members involved in your life or the same friend. You lose that,” she said. “And as you walk out those doors, that's one of your hardest days too, you probably feel very defeated if there's no resources. This program is going to bring those resources to those individuals who need help, who want help.”
Members from Valley Behavioral Health and Salt Lake Legal Defender Association will be on-site to help people. They will work in collaboration with Salt Lake County Criminal Justice Services and the Sheriff’s Office.
Richard Mauro, executive director of the Salt Lake Legal Defender Association, said people often get confusing information when they’re being released from jail.
“What this program now has done is given people really solid information about when their court date is, how the appointment process is going to work, and what they can expect going forward.”