Salt Lake County could be headed toward an evolution in criminal justice that would channel more low-level lawbreakers into counseling and therapy, rather than cellblocks and courtrooms, reports the Salt Lake Tribune. Utah’s most-populous county is straining under the inmate crush. The sheriff releases hundreds every month from the 2,000-capacity Adult Detention Center because of overcrowding and now is prepping a second jail. Even with the new beds, Sheriff Jim Winder concedes more jails offer only a short-term remedy. “You can’t build your way out of this problem,” he says.
The county is contemplating an innovation that would provide a “door No. 2” for nonviolent offenders suspected of substance abuse or mental illness who get nabbed on minor offenses such as disorderly conduct or petty theft. Instead of putting them behind bars, police could send those wrongdoers to a “receiving center” that would assess their situation and recommend treatment, offering them a better shot at rehabilitation. Criminal-justice experts see this corrections triage as something that could reduce the population of drug abusers and mentally ill offenders who comprise more than 70 percent of the county’s inmates.