Restoring Compassion to the Criminal Justice System

posted in: Crime in Utah | 0

Criminal justice in Utah is costing tax payers nearly one million dollars per day and the most likely target for additional spending cuts continue to be the very programs with demonstrable success in reducing criminal behavior.  The result is more people are being incarcerated with fewer services to address the root causes of criminal behavior.

“As state policymakers continue to feel pressure to introduce measures to keep crime rates low, they would therefore do well to look beyond incarceration for alternative policies that not only may be able to accomplish the important task of protecting public safety, but may do so more efficiently and more effectively.”  (Don Stemen, Director of Research, Center on Sentencing and Corrections)  The complete report: Reconsidering Incarceration: New Directions for Reducing Crime (2007) is available here.

According to information compiled by the Pew Center on the States; One in 64 Utah adults were under some form of correctional control at year end 2007 (does not include pre-trial cases, diversion programs, or drug courts).

From 1982 to 2007, Utah experienced a 258% increase in number of people incarcerated and a simultaneous 17% decrease in use of probation/parole as an alternative to incarceration. A closer look at the 2007 crime statistics reveals a strong propensity for incarceration as a primary method of forcing compliance with community standards:

  1. Property crimes in Utah account for 93.7% of the overall crime rate which is 7% above the national average
  2. Violent crimes in Utah account for 6.3% of the overall crime rate which is 50% lower than the national average
  3. 47% of Utah citizens who are under correctional control are in jail or prison which is 66% HIGHER than the national average.

The complete Fact Sheet for Utah is available here.  The full report detailing the long reach of corrections in America prepared by the Pew Center on the States is available here.

Speaking at the Utah Sentencing Commission meeting in August, 2009, Mr. Scott Carver, who was representing the Utah Sheriff’s Association; expressed concern with the manner in which county jails are being used as a condition of probation.  He provided a graph illustrating the fact individuals are receiving and serving longer sentences in county jails than those committed to prison.  The graph represents the time period between January 2000 and January 2009.  Associated with this discrepancy is the Sheriff’s Association assertion that recidivism rates remain consistent, despite longer periods of incarceration.  (Note: the graph did not include state inmates being housed in county jails.) The referenced meeting minutes are available here.

Simply locking people away and stripping them of them their rights is not conducive to long term safety or healthy communities.  There are significant opportunities available to reduce the tax burden AND reduce criminal behavior through alternative sentencing solutions that promote public safety and sustainable communities.  It begins with the recognition that retribution and punishment are fear based responses that do not contribute to health and safety.

Fear is self-perpetuating and interferes with learning and growth.  Compassion, on the other hand, promotes learning, growth and forgiveness.  These ideals are more suited for community growth.  They allow for accountability with the potential to transform painful experiences into life lessons for everyone involved.

It requires the restoration of power to the people; individuals, families, neighborhoods, and communities.  It requires them to be actively involved in the governance and administration of justice instead of passively ceding control to the state.