S.L. County mayor teams up with White House to launch criminal justice reform effort (Deseret News)

By Katie McKellar

SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams joined with White House officials Thursday to announce a nationwide effort to find data-driven solutions to break the cycle of incarceration.

The coalition, deemed the Data-Driven Justice Initiative, was launched Thursday by President Barack Obama's administration. Utah and its largest county are among 67 city, county and state governments that have joined the effort.

The coalition has committed to using evidence-based strategies to divert low-level offenders with mental illness out of the criminal justice system and change approaches to pretrial incarceration so low-risk offenders no longer stay in jail simply because they cannot afford bail.

Valerie Jarrett, Obama's senior adviser, called McAdams a leader who "is at the forefront of creating these important changes" in his community, and named Salt Lake County as a municipality that is setting an example.

Every year, more than 11 million people move through U.S. jails, costing local governments about $22 billion annually on incarceration costs alone, Jarrett said.

"There are communities across our country that are exploring ways to be smarter and more effective in the way they run their criminal justice systems and reduce crime in their communities," Jarrett said in a media conference call. "We're bringing together city, county and state leaders to share evidence-based, innovative strategies that make our communities safer and ensure people receive the vital services they need."

McAdams made criminal justice reform a top priority in his 2016 budget and has launched numerous initiatives, including the Pay for Success program, to transform the way the county's criminal justice system addresses people with mental illness and diverts people away from jail into services.

"We joined the Data-Driven Justice Initiative because we've seen that there are people in our county jails that quite simply don't need to be there," McAdams said. "There are better ways to use our dollars than to just lock people up who don't need to be in jail. Salt Lake County is constantly evaluating the best data-driven tools that we can use to help make our judges make smart, safe decisions about release."

Coalition members have committed to using data to identify individuals within criminal and health systems that have consistent contact with police, health or social services; equip law enforcement and others with the tools they need to divert people to services rather than arresting them; and use validated tools to identify low-risk defendants being held in jail that could be safely released.

The White House's goal is to "expand and accelerate" solutions, Jarrett said, by joining together leaders with innovative ideas while also matching them with "our nation's top data scientists, technologists and developers" who can help them develop smarter, data-driven criminal justice reform.

As part of the initiative, Salt Lake County has partnered with the University of Chicago to study ways the county can "find the best ways to help the people who need it now, but also work to find ways that we can get ahead of the problem," McAdams said.

"We know these solutions aren't easy. They can't be done overnight, but we know that we can reduce jail population and not only increase safety in our community, but also use our tax dollars more efficiently," the mayor said. "I'm grateful for the White House's leadership on this initiative, and I'm looking forward to continuing to learn from other communities across the country who are also tackling these problems."

Email: kmckellar@deseretnews.com

Twitter: KatieMcKellar1