Even knowing the project eventually will come with a fairly steep price tag, the Salt Lake County Council signaled its support Tuesday for a pilot program aimed at providing a select group of criminals with training that will keep them from returning to jail.
The council voted unanimously to endorse the "Second Chance Offender Re-Entry Initiative (SCORE)," put together over the last year by the county's Criminal Justice Advisory Council (CJAC). The council includes law enforcement, prosecutors, human services, defense counsel, corrections and court officers and elected officials at the local and state levels.
The endorsement comes with a pledge to provide matching funds if CJAC secures a federal grant this fall to complete planning for and to start up a community corrections center in Oxbow jail.
David Litvack, CJAC's coordinator, told the council the county would have to contribute $375,000 in cash and staff services to acquire and implement the grant. Then it would likely face a bill of about $2.25 million to go forward with the program, which involves intensive behavioral treatment followed by close monitoring by county sheriff's deputies.
The goal, he said, is to identify men booked into the jail system for 180 days or more who probably will return to a life of crime if they are simply warehoused for the term of their sentence and then released but who might become productive members of society instead if they receive appropriate training.
"We want to match intense programming with high-risk individuals," Litvack said. "We don't want to use it on people who could make it on their own. It's meant to help inmates transition into the community. It's a measured stepdown, a cautious step back into the community."
Even with the expensive startup, a successful community corrections center could save money over the next century as the county's population doubles, straining jail capacities, said Councilman Richard Snelgrove.
Besides saving the $42,000 a year it costs the county to keep an inmate in jail, Snelgrove noted that returning penitent individuals to their families more quickly strengthens the community.
Sheriff Jim Winder said he is convinced this model will work because it tells inmates that if they cooperate, there will be incentives to get them home sooner. And if they mess up in minor ways, they will not be thrown into solitary confinement but returned to the program for more training.
"It's how you manage your kids. If they don't clean up their rooms, I don't ground them for six months. I take softer measures," Winder said. "We'll react more appropriately with sanctions. This is a real opportunity to save money and manage [inmates] in a more humane manner."
Added County District Attorney Sim Gill, a key member of CJAC: "You encouraged us to go out and look for systemic savings. This is the next step in that evolution, in the paradigm shift of that model."
Litvack said CJAC hopes the pilot project provides data that will show whether the model can be applied to a larger institution, such as the overall jail population.