Salt Lake County explores alternatives to prison for some cases

The United States incarcerates criminal offenders faster than any other country-so fast that prison capacity is an ongoing problem.

As part of Salt Lake County’s push to improve its criminal justice system, officials are considering a big alternative to prison sentences.

Not every criminal defendant belongs in prison and Salt Lake City hopes that a more creative justice model will be more efficient.  The Salt Lake County Council recently accepted an advisory panel’s Criminal and Social Justice implementation plan.

The plan creates a community corrections pilot program that would still impose some supervision but would not require certain inmates to remain in prison for their entire sentences. Proponents argue that an alternative to prison incarceration would conserve resources and reduce recidivism. The program would put a large emphasis on treatment.

Only non-violent, low-level offenders could participate. Those offenders would be eligible for community corrections after showing compliance with jail treatment plans or behavior requirements. But people with violent or dangerous convictions would still serve prison sentences.

Many details of the pilot program remain unclear and we will have to wait several years to see how the community corrections system develops. But many criminal justice researchers and commentators agree that prison sentences are not an ideal outcome for every convicted criminal. The possibility of more sentencing flexibility in the criminal justice system is a welcome improvement.

Source: Deseret News, “Should every guilty defendant go to jail? Salt Lake County seeks an alternative,” Marjorie Cortez, Aug. 11, 2012

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