Salt Lake County zeroing in on criminal-justice effort (Salt Lake Tribune)

By MIKE GORRELL

A two-day retreat got the Salt Lake County Council closer to a consensus on how to spend $6 million this year on criminal-justice reform.

But in continuing discussions last week, at least two council members expressed reservations about proposed uses for almost half of the money — $2.7 million.

The council has time to work out the concerns.

No formal motions to spend any of the funding can be made until after the council holds a public hearing Feb. 23 on the $3 million slotted to go to two "Pay for Success" programs — one to reduce jail recidivism in general, and the other to treat homeless people who spend their time bouncing between the shelter and the jail.

Earlier in this lengthy process, when the council first considered extending an expiring tax levy for jail construction to help pay for criminal-justice reform, several questioned the Pay for Success approach to resolving some key problems.

But the conversation at last week's council session suggested Mayor Ben McAdams had persuaded the nine-member body to get behind the concept of getting corporations and philanthropists to fund programs upfront, to be repaid later by the county if pre-determined goals are met.

In this case, the council appears committed to giving $1.5 million to First Step House to develop a program to reduce recidivism, focusing on providing clients with mental-health or substance-abuse treatment, career support and traditional housing.

Another $1.5 million would go to The Road Home for a program to deal with a sizable group of homeless people, currently ineligible for Medicaid, who rack up big bills for the county through frequent trips to jail. Many spend three months a year there.

"We want them to stop using the jail as a homeless shelter," McAdams said, "and to help get them on their path to self-reliance."

As some investors were coming through to look at these two Pay for Success initiatives, the council agreed to lend its support to both. Council members also backed $100,000 for indigent defense and $200,000 to start planning for a Community Corrections Center, bringing the unanimously endorsed total to $3.3 million.

Use of the other $2.7 million caused more heartburn — especially after Undersheriff Scott Carver said this past year's implementation of the state's Justice Reform Initiative had stuck the sheriff's office with about $750,000 in expenses for probation officers the state had been expected to pay.

Councilman Steve DeBry, a Unified Police Department deputy chief still stinging from the fatal shooting Jan. 17 of Officer Doug Barney by a parolee who skipped out of a drug-treatment program while awaiting trial, wanted more information about the need to spend $2.3 million to:

• Add detoxification beds at the jail for people brought in by law enforcement;

• Expand supervision by paying for more probation officers and performing more case-management functions;

• Increase the number of Medicaid-ineligible people who can get behavioral-health treatment;

• Assess the need for a receiving center where risk assessments can be done on people entering the system;

• Use data to track people through the system.

DeBry did not object to any of those individually, but still had too many questions about how they interact to lend them his support.

"I voted for [the jail-tax extension] for the right reasons and I want to make sure the money is appropriated in the appropriate way," he said.

Fellow conservative Republican Councilman Richard Snelgrove, who voted against continuing to collect the tax, took aim at a proposal to spend another $400,000 to establish a data warehouse so systemwide program assessments may be done.

"I have no idea what that is. It's all Chinese to me," he said, describing the funding for a data warehouse as "low-hanging fruit" that easily could be re-routed to help cover the sheriff's unfunded supervision mandate.

"I see that pressing need as a higher and better use than for a data warehouse in its infancy," Snelgrove added.

Councilwoman Aimee Winder Newton and Deputy Mayor Lori Bays defended the data warehouse.

Without it, Newton questioned, "how do we evaluate what's working and what's not? How do we track inmates to see where they go? We agreed that having data and tracking that was the key to knowing where we put our money."

Added Bays: "We need to incorporate more data, especially behavioral health, so we have all the people who touch the criminal-justice system. We have to have the ability to look at data from across the system so we're not missing components."

Some of these concerns may be resolved before the Feb. 23 public hearing, said Tim Whalen, who runs the county's behavioral-health programs.

He pleaded successfully with council members to let him continue to meet with the mayor's, sheriff's and district attorney's offices to develop more coordination on programs that would be funded with the disputed $2.3 million.

mikeg@sltrib.com