Top-ranking officials from Salt Lake County, including Mayor Ben McAdams, Sheriff Jim Winder and District Attorney Sim Gill, have embraced the project, arguing that addressing the needs of addicted and mentally ill offenders will reduce crime and cut costs.
"If there is a better remedy than returning somebody to a jail cell, whether it's mental health or substance abuse treatment, that's what we should employ," McAdams said in a statement.
The county's approach dovetails with Salt Lake City's recently announced strategy that emphasizes treatment rather than jail for addicted and mentally ill homeless people. It also aligns with an effort by the state's Commission on Criminal Justice to slow the growth of Utah's prison population and reduce spending.
Clinicians, criminal justice policy experts and lawyers make up CSG's multidisciplinary research team. The team is led by Hallie Fader-Towe, who has directed similar projects in New York City and Bexar County, Texas, where San Antonio is county seat.
After each of those studies, Fader-Towe and her team crafted reform policies that suited the singular needs of each criminal justice system.
"We provide data and incorporate national research to help develop policies for each jurisdiction," Fader-Towe said.
In New York, that included pretrial screening to determine whether arrestees are mentally ill or likely to commit further crimes. In Bexar County, CSG recommended increasing the number of clinicians in pretrial holding facilities.
CSG will examine Salt Lake County's courts, jails, pretrial services, probation and treatment programs, while meeting periodically with county officials.
"We'll be looking at data together and discussing their policy recommendations together," said David Litvack, director of the county's Criminal Justice Advisory Council. "We have an opportunity to leverage the work they have done in other areas, and they're also very cognizant that Salt Lake County is unique."
CSG plans to submit its final report by next August.