Utah Right On Crime: A conversation with Texas Right On Crime architects

We have the perfect primer for anyone looking to understand Utah’s criminal justice reform efforts and the Right On Crime initiative.

Sutherland’s Derek Monson had the chance to sit down with Jerry Madden, the 20-year Texas state legislator who spearheaded criminal justice reform in his state, and Mark Levin, policy director for Right on Crime, for a discussion about criminal justice reform efforts in Utah.

Check out their conversation below:

Encouraging steps in Utah criminal justice reform

prison-reformSutherland Institute is encouraged by the direction of the policy recommendations presented to two legislative interim committees yesterday, and to the governor last week, by the Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice. Overall, they represent a reasonable and, just as important, a moral perspective on criminal justice reform.

As a whole, they point lawmakers in the right direction to secure true justice for individuals and society: ensuring that prison sentences are only imposed when a crime merits it; helping individuals productively reintegrate into society after a prison sentence; and protecting the public from individuals that have shown a truly harmful pattern of criminal behavior.

Moreover, if implemented and administered effectively, the proposed policies should lead to a measurable savings to taxpayers. Proper executive and legislative oversight will be a crucial component to realizing this reduced cost of criminal justice, creating the possibility for a wise re-investment of taxpayer resources. But wise fiscal stewardship is something that the state is widely, and properly, recognized for.

Sutherland encourages Utah policymakers to give these recommendations serious consideration, while adding to them constructive and beneficial changes that are brought forward through the policymaking process. We look forward to helping support reasonable, conservative reforms to Utah’s criminal justice system in the 2015 Legislative Session.

Poll: Most Utahns want police to wear body cameras

policecarFollowing the recent violence in Ferguson, Mo., and shootings by police in Utah, the website Utah Policy commissioned a Dan Jones poll on how Utahns feel about related issues. Utah Policy’s report says,

More than 8 out of 10 Utahns think police officers should be required to wear body cameras or other recording devices, but they’re split over whether cops are too quick to use deadly or excessive force.

Utah police agencies are already adding body cameras. In fact, the officer who shot and killed a man Aug. 11 in a 7-Eleven parking lot was wearing one, so that footage is part of the investigation. According to The Salt Lake Tribune, some officers want to wear a body cam enough that they are buying them with their own money.

So apparently the use of “cop cams” appeals to both the public and the police in Utah, though perhaps for varying reasons: documentation that protects the public, and documentation that backs up police actions.

Possible drawbacks to the body cameras include privacy issues and cost to taxpayers. But even the ACLU supports use of the cameras (although with strict privacy rules): “We’re against pervasive government surveillance, but when cameras primarily serve the function of allowing public monitoring of the government instead of the other way around, we generally regard that as a good thing.”

Click here to read about the poll at UtahPolicy.com.

Utah must tackle issues behind prison, mistreatment of prisoners, and recidivism

Photo: Lee Honeycutt

Warehousing large numbers of people in prison is neither wise, nor just, nor humane as most people, and certainly conservatives, recognize. Allowing rampant crime to go unchecked is also none of these things. As a result of many factors, we have a large prison population in the United States and it is incumbent on us as a society to figure out how to prevent individuals from going to prison, how to ensure humane treatment of those who are in prison and how to help those who are released from prison not return there.

Part of the answer to the first question may involve strengthening families, particularly promoting married fatherhood. A recent article by Kay Hymowitz makes a strong case for the link between crime rates and marriage breakdown:

The bottom line is that there is a large body of literature showing that children of single mothers are more likely to commit crimes than children who grow up with their married parents. This is true not just in the United States, but wherever the issue has been researched. … Studies cannot prove conclusively that fatherlessness — or any other factor — actually causes people to commit crimes. For that, you’d have to do the impossible: take a large group of infants and raise each of them simultaneously in two precisely equivalent households—except one would be headed by a father and mother and the other by a lone mother. But by comparing criminals of the same race, education, income, and mother’s education whose primary observable difference is family structure, social scientists have come as close as they can to making the causal case with the methodological tools available.

Michael Horowitz of the Hudson Institute has included in his important Wilberforce Agenda an effort to end the evil practice of sexual assault in prison. This is a most worthy cause. Read more

Away with the speed traps!

What would you do if you were king or queen for a day in Utah? If you could make any decision to create any law or repeal any law or pass any regulation you want, what one thing would you do? Would you get rid of the state income tax? Would you create a new tax that would only help to feed people? Would you legalize drugs? What one thing would you do if you were king or queen for the day?

As odd as it might sound, I think I would get rid of speeding tickets and speeding traps. Not that I’m plagued by speeding tickets – I’ve had three speeding tickets in 40 years of driving. It’s just that I have a visceral and palpable animosity every time I see a speed trap. I think to myself – or sometimes say out loud in my car – “Don’t you guys have anything better to do than to sit there waiting to make criminals out of otherwise innocent people?”

I should say up front that I don’t oppose laws against reckless driving, just speed traps. Read more

Helping guide prisoners’ re-entry into society

Tuesday evening, the Apollo 13 Project sponsored a “Second Chance” basketball tournament at Utah Valley University.

Eight teams participated, and there was a standout performance by Cameron Mero (son of Sutherland Institute’s president), who is an excellent athlete and even more impressive sportsman. All of the athletes were superb.

At the event, I met Dallas Tall, a co-founder of the Project, who has an inspiring story. He spent 10 of the last 20 years in prison on various addiction-related charges but, thanks to the support of immediate and extended family, has been drug free for four years and is developing a successful career. His story raises an important question – how many could equal Dallas’ success if they had the same kind of family support?  Read more

So … what about that $25 million building?

Salt Lake County Criminal Justice Services building

In Monday’s post, “Is this really a $40 million problem?” we wrote about the news that Salt Lake County might build a $40 million “community corrections center.” We noted that only $4.5 million of that would go towards the corrections center. Of the remainder, $25 million would go for a Criminal Justice Services Division office building.

So what’s the purpose of the $25 million office building? We called Gary Dalton, director of Criminal Justice Services, to find out. Read more

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? Read more