Merciful heavens! Human treatment may even render human a man in whom the image of God has long ago been tarnished. It is these “unfortunates” that must be treated in the most human fashion. This is their salvation and their joy.
— Fyodor Dostoyevsky, “The House of the Dead”
Or, in the words of Bryce Talbot, current state inmate in Garfield County, “[Jail officials] treat us like human beings, and, ultimately, that lets us act like human beings.”
The higher purpose of incarceration, of course, is not to punish, but to rehabilitate. A person in jail for the first time can blame no one but himself. A person who returns to jail has been failed by the system that incarcerated him.
And that is what the Department of Corrections’ Inmate Placement Program (IPP) is trying to avoid. The IPP assigns a quarter of the state’s inmates to county jails for the purpose of providing more personalized attention, training and opportunity in smaller groups. The program also saves the state money and provides some rural counties with stable jobs they wouldn’t otherwise have.
Not many former inmates can say, “Prison changed me. It saved me,” like Jon Stubbs can. Stubbs left prison in 2016 and now owns his own trucking business. Even better, Stubbs provides employment for other former inmates.
Inmates in the IPP program often use skills learned in the county jails to secure employment after they leave jail. Mariah Noble for The Salt Lake Tribune reported: “In addition to welding, the Garfield County jail offers classes in auto glass repair, building trades, culinary arts, graphic design, embroidery and silk screening, among others.”
The programs help inmates build confidence and imagine different futures for themselves other than a revolving door in and out of state prison. They are able to form lasting networks and look after each other.
In other words, the county jails are helping rehabilitate state inmates.
It’s a bright spot compared with recent reports of deaths and abuse.
In 2014, Utah had the highest rate of jail inmate deaths. Data obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune indicated 11 inmates died in 2015 and 23 in 2016.
In response, the Utah Legislature passed a bill this past session to require counties to report jail inmate deaths to the state’s Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice. With the information, legislators hope to develop statewide policies to help prevent such deaths.
And that’s important.
But it’s equally important to make sure that these inmates find a new life when they leave jail, and county jails should continue making that happen.