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Whoever would have thought jail recidivism would become a flash-point topic in the tightly contested Salt Lake County mayor's race?
Republican candidate Mark Crockett initiated the flap last week when he held a news conference in front of the county jail, former Sen. Bob Bennett and Bennett's nephew at his side, to describe how Crockett would use technology and innovation to cut down on the number of offenders who end up back in jail.
Bruce Bennett, the nephew and executive director of RealVictory, described in detail how his nonprofit organization has found success in a pilot program in which youthful offenders who went through a six-week, goals-and-beliefs training were given a cell phone upon their release from an institution. They were instructed to answer all calls.
Every so often, that cellphone would ring and the offender heard a message pre-recorded by a person of influence in his or her life, urging adherence to the rules.
So far, Bruce Bennett said, the results indicate a higher rate of compliance by subjects who receive this positive feedback. Almost 40 percent of program participants did not return to jail, he said. Many who faltered took longer to get rearrested than members of a control group who did not receive the training or a phone.
"We can bring more technology and private sector resources to bear to actually get these things done without imposing a greater tax burden on the community," Crockett said.
Democratic candidate Ben McAdams fired back Thursday, with an irritated Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder at his side and endorsements from the employee federations representing police, firefighters and many county employees.
McAdams pledged to support a research-based, recidivism reduction program the sheriff and the county's Criminal Justice Advisory Council spent four years developing and implementing. "The system allows Salt Lake County to influence change," he added.
Winder said the plan provides for the identification of inmates who can be returned to society if they are monitored by law enforcement personnel. "We're not putting them on the streets with cell phones and happy messages," the sheriff said.
"McAdams supports the same approach," he said. "He is a firm supporter of public safety and improving the criminal justice system."
Added Don Campbell, president of the 300-officer Unified Police Federation: "We think he's the right guy … a good choice for the community we serve from the ski resorts through the valley."
But former Sen. Bennett said he believed Crockett would, as mayor, find smarter solutions to problems of overcrowding at the jail.
"In Salt Lake County we spend millions of dollars catching, convicting and supervising offenders," Bennett said. "It's time to look at how the county jail system can be reformed to implement programs that actually keep people from returning to prison again and again."
Democrat Ben McAdams and Republican Mark Crockett are vying to be the next Salt Lake County mayor.