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The money's there for Salt Lake County to elevate its fight against homelessness and jail recidivism.
The County Council approved Tuesday the release of $2.2 million to the sheriff's office, the criminal-justice-services division and the behavioral health agency to beef up their ranks and expand the community treatment services needed to keep "high-risk, high-need individuals" from living in a revolving door between homeless shelters and the county jail, racking up big bills for taxpayers.
It also authorized Mayor Ben McAdams to negotiate contracts worth up to $1.5 million each with two private service providers The Road Home and First Step House which will establish programs to attack homelessness and recidivism alongside the county agencies.
The council is requiring the mayor to provide biannual updates on the "net value received by the county for funds or resources appropriated" for these programs.
That will include expenditures saved, "intangible benefits received … and other conveniences or comforts to county residents" from living in a safer community.
"It's an enormous milestone to have the support of the County Council to move forward with the first steps" of criminal-justice reform, McAdams said after the council gave its assent to proceed.
The go-ahead came after Tim Whalen, the director of behavioral health, joined Sheriff Jim Winder and Kele Griffone, the director of criminal justice services, in describing their collaborative approach to expanding effective treatment services.
"We have a very good program to keep folks who are high risk and high need from going in and out of the jail," said Whalen, citing "a high level of success already" in a one-year pilot program involving focused supervision and treatment.
The pilot program, Whalen observed, received plaudits in a review by the Council of State Governments, although more resources were needed for treatment programming.
The money freed up by the council will do just that, he said, focusing on people who weave in and out of the system repetitively.
"We will probably see a longer-term, higher benefit" from dealing with this population, Winder said. "Serve sicker people and get them better."
Academic literature supports that approach, Whalen added. "You get more bang for your buck treating high-risk, high-need individuals."
The $2.2 million is slated to be divided among:
The sheriff's office ($863,000) • To hire seven corrections officers, a sergeant and a clerical-support staff member, and to buy vehicles and technology equipment
Behavioral Health Services ($790,000) • For expanded treatment services, five additional detox beds for people brought in by law-enforcement agencies, and an assessment worker
Criminal Justice Services ($575,000) • For five case managers, a supervisor, temporary employees and building work
The detox beds will be particularly useful, Wahlen and Winder concurred, keeping people out of jail who should not be there.
"Jail is a bad place for a drunk or high person to go," Wahlen said.
Added Winder: "I can guarantee [those extra beds, doubling what's available now] will be filled every night of the year."
Funding became available when the council decided to extend tax collections from a 20-year bond for jail construction that were supposed to expire in December.