Is this really a $40 million problem?

The Salt Lake Tribune reported yesterday that Salt Lake County is considering building a “‘community corrections center’ designed to help convicted wrongdoers who wrestle with drug addictions or mental health problems break free from their criminal past,” a kind of jail/halfway house hybrid.

Salt Lake County Jail Housing

The need sounds dire. According to the Tribune article, Salt Lake County’s criminal-justice consultant asks, “Do we simply allow them back into the community and wait for them to fail, sometimes in a spectacular way, or do we try to guide their re-entry? This is changing the paradigm of punishment.”

District Attorney Sim Gill adds, “We are missing that middle piece. What they need is to be meaningfully engaged in treatment. For those who are willing to engage, let’s get them out of [the jail] and support them therapeutically.”

The potential cost to taxpayers? $40 million. Interestingly, $25 million of that would go for a Criminal Justice Services Division office building, while only $4.5 million would actually be used to construct the 250-bed corrections center.

Two questions: First, what’s the purpose for that $25 million office building? How is it tied to “therapeutic” support? And second, is this type of corrections facility even needed? Is the drug abuse problem in Utah a growing problem?

According to the Utah Department of Public Safety’s 2009 and 2000 annual reports of crime statistics, the number of drug possession arrests per 1,000 Utahns has actually gone down 29 percent from 4.62 in 2000 to 3.28 in 2009. Here’s the data breakdown:

2009 Drug Possession Arrests

Possess Opium/Cocaine or Derivative 1,292
Possess Marijuana 4,754
Possess Synthetic Narcotics 290
Possess Dangerous Non-Narcotic Drugs 2,808
2009 Total 9,144
2009 Total Population 2,784,572
2009 drug possession arrests/1,000 Utahns 3.28


2000 Drug Possession Arrests

Possess Opium/Cocaine or Derivative 994
Possess Marijuana 6,144
Possess Synthetic Narcotics 318
Possess Dangerous Non-Narcotic Drugs 2,856
2000 Total 10,312
2000 Total Population 2,233,169
2000 drug possession arrests/1,000 Utahns 4.62


These data indicate that drug possession arrests in Utah have actually gone down over the last 10 years, which would seem to indicate that whatever Utah’s law enforcement, public resources and private organizations are doing regarding the “war on drugs” seems to be working.

So, first of all, kudos to the hard work of all involved. It is very encouraging to see a reduction like this. In fact, the 2009 crime report shows such positive lowering trends in all major crime categories. So, a big hats-off to everyone.

And, last, these numbers do not support spending $40 million for a problem that, by all appearances, is not that dire. Maybe there are other factors that justify constructing a $25 million office building and a $4.5 treatment facility, but these data do not seem to support it. Have other alternatives been considered, such as turning to private industry to help with repeat drug abusers? When such alternatives are viable, it is in taxpayers’ best interest to limit the growth of government.