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2016 Budget Prioritizes Public Safety, Criminal Justice Reform

Nov 05, 2015 11:48AM ● Published by Bryan Scott

By Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams

Salt Lake County’s 1.1 million residents deserve a county government that steps up to the plate and confronts a serious criminal justice challenge.  That’s what I’ve tried to do with my 2016 proposed budget.  It is structurally balanced with existing revenues and it supports my belief in taking on tough issues and solving problems.  This year, I have prioritized the county’s core responsibility – public safety.

We have a lot going for us.  As a thriving metropolitan area, Salt Lake County is leading the way forward on economic growth and jobs, low taxes, cleaner air and quality education. I share the positive view most residents have that Salt Lake County is a great place to raise a family, start a business and give something back to the community. However, we do face some challenges.

This year, due in part to the legislature’s passage of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, sentencing for some drug crimes and other non-violent offenses will require jail time, rather than prison.  That change took effect Oct. 1. I support the reforms to our criminal justice system, but in the short term, this adds to the jail overcrowding without providing sufficient funding for much-needed jail diversion programs that provide sentencing alternatives, dealing with substance abuse and mental health issues. Also, without a Utah plan for Medicaid expansion, this amounts to an unfunded mandate on the counties. 

Instead of just throwing up our hands, we’ve come up with a plan. Fully three fourths of the county’s general fund is taken up by the county’s criminal justice and human services investments.  The jail and the District Attorney’s office are both experiencing a double digit increase in jail bookings and new criminal cases screened by law enforcement and that trajectory is continuing. We must pay for those immediate needs and at the same time, look for new ways to address the major causes of recidivism that just add to the problem.

My budget proposes that we continue a jail levy—passed by taxpayers in 1995 to build a new jail—and re-dedicate the approximately $9.4 million annually to deal with increased crime while trying to stem the tide in the future. A portion of the money would be used to build a Community Corrections Center.  This secure treatment facility is a sentencing alternative to the jail. It would include space for intake efforts, behavioral health services, job counseling and other programs, within a secure environment. This will free up the “hard beds” for criminals who need to be kept away from society.

I’m convinced we can limit the number of new beds needed in the future, by funding some innovative programs that follow data and evidence to lower the recidivism rate, and prevent homeless individuals and those with mental illness and substance abuse issues from crowding the jail. Of 8,700 inmates released in 2011, nearly two-thirds were back in the jail within three years. In other words, they’re out just long enough to get into legal trouble again.  It’s a repeating loop that serves no one—not the victims of crime, not the police, not the prosecutors and not those cycling in and out of the system, or their families.

How will we measure success?  We’ll know we’ve succeeded when 1) we’ve put the criminals behind bars, 2) the homeless in housing, 3) substance abusers in treatment, and 4) children in school, through high school graduation.

You can read more about my budget at www.slco.org/mayor.  Thank you for giving me the privilege of representing you as Salt Lake County mayor.  

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