Salt Lake County district attorney joins national effort to reduce the number of people on probation

Sim Gill, district attorney for Salt Lake County, speaks during a news conference at the Utah Capitol, Tuesday, May 8, 2018, in Salt Lake City. The top prosecutor in Utah's largest city is speaking out in support of an effort to legalize medical marijuana. Gill says using medical marijuana should be a decision between a patient and a doctor rather than a criminal matter. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill has joined prosecutors across the nation in advocating for reducing the number of people on probation and parole in the United States.

Noting a growing trend of Americans who are under supervision, Gill and 44 other current and former prosecutors signed a statement with five recommendations to reduce the number of people who are being supervised.

Gill told The Salt Lake Tribune on Thursday that he believes the probation system is leading to mass incarceration in Utah and elsewhere. Criminal defendants are often put on probation instead of jail, he said, but technical violations — like breaking curfew or skipping a drug test — lead them to a prison sentence anyway.

“It’s a trip wire by which they can’t succeed,” he said.

The statement, released by the Columbia Justice Lab, focused on these recommendations:

  • Reserve probation and parole only for those who “truly require supervision.”

  • Reduce lengths of supervision to only as long as necessary to reach the goals of sentencing.

  • Grant early discharge for those who show significant progress and meet program goal.

  • Eliminate or curtail supervision fees.

  • Reallocate savings to improve services and support for people under supervision.

“For too long, probation and parole have been overlooked contributors to the challenges that plague our justice system and have filled our prisons and jails,” said Miriam Krinsky, executive director of Fair and Just Prosecution, a national prosecutor network. “These public safety tools should set individuals on a pathway to success, not to unnecessary incarceration.”

In Utah, Gill said his office has been striving to reach these goals through an emphasis on “therapeutic justice.” This means relying more on programs like veteran’s court, drug court or DUI court to help people get treatment — not a lengthy jail sentence.

Gill also pointed to the county’s efforts in Operation Rio Grande, the coordinated response to criminal activity around Salt Lake City’s downtown homeless shelter, and the focus on transitional housing and job placement as contributors to decreasing the number of people on probation and at risk of returning to jail.