SALT LAKE CITY — Reforms to Utah’s criminal justice system are keeping the prison population down, but they’re falling short of a goal to get more people into treatment for substance abuse and mental health problems, according to a report released Thursday.
The number of people in treatment has dropped in the past three fiscal years, at least in part because of a lack of facilities in the state outside the prison system, Ron Gordon, executive director of the Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice, told The Salt Lake Tribune (http://bit.ly/2egb2hb).
“For those who don’t need to be in prison, don’t put them in prison, treat them in the community. That only works if we have treatment opportunities in the community,” Gordon said.
The package of reforms that passed in 2015 included a new inmate screening program. It found that more than half of people booked into county jails needed substance abuse treatment. About 40 percent were referred to mental health programs.
Still, the number of treatment admissions over the last year dropped from 9,672 to 9,516. The total number of people in such programs fell from 11,315 to 10,411.
While that could be due in part to patients staying in treatment longer, Gordon said that it’s going to take a big increase in the number of facilities to reach the goal of reducing repeat offenders through treatment.
The legislature also approved a $4.5 million influx of cash for treatment, but doesn’t yet appear to have made a difference in the number of places people can go. One option is to go back to lawmakers for increased funding, Gordon said.
The package of reforms also included measures aimed at reducing the prison population by decreasing penalties for certain drug-related offenses, creating incentives for good behavior in prison and putting fewer people in prison for parole violations.
Those efforts appear to be working. The prison population was going down before the reforms went into effect, and they’ve helped push the downward trend.
The number of inmates has dropped by 600 since fiscal 2014, the report found.
The current population stands at about 6,300, less than leaders had projected when they passed the reforms.
Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune, http://www.sltrib.com