Crime programs up for prize
Global competition: SLC to showcase its 'restorative justice' approach to treating underlying causes
By Heather May
The Salt Lake Tribune
Salt Lake Tribune
Article Last Updated:12/02/2006 01:58:57 AM MST
Mayor Rocky Anderson, his police chief and top prosecutor will fly to London today to tout Salt Lake City programs that attempt to treat the underlying cause of crime - from prostitution to drunken driving to drug offenses.
The city is a finalist for a World Leadership Award. It won one last year for its environmental efforts. This year, Utah's capital is competing against Madrid, Spain, and Stuttgart, Germany, in the "law-and-order" category.
Salt Lake City's program is called "restorative justice." Instead of focusing on punishment, it emphasizes helping victims and the community, and working with offenders.
"We should bring the hammer down on people who deserve to have the hammer down on them," said City Prosecutor Sim Gill, who will make the presentation along with Anderson and Police Chief Chris Burbank.
But, in some cases, Gill said, "you can prosecute them until the cows come home, but you're not going to get anything out of it unless you address the root causes."
The policy shift started in 2000, when Anderson entered his first term. Restorative justice includes 12 programs:
* Community Action Teams: Members from city government, the community and Valley Health Department meet weekly to discuss neighborhood crime and safety issues.
* Pathways: The pilot program provides housing and support services to the chronically homeless.
* Crises Intervention Team: Police officers are trained to identify mental illness so that encounters go more smoothly and the ill get medical help. The mentally ill make up 5 percent of the U.S. population but 16 percent of the jail population, according to the city's prepared presentation for the judges.
* Mental Health Court: Mentally ill offenders receive medical, counseling and housing services. Just 17 percent of participants have graduated, but incarceration and inpatient treatment costs dropped, according to the presentation.
* Domestic Violence Court: Offenders must undergo counseling and be monitored. Some 75 percent of participants have graduated from the program, said the city.
* Drunk Driving Court: Convicted drivers pay restitution to victims and receive counseling. They meet with residents to understand how their crime affects the community. Three-quarters of the 327 offenders have graduated. And the court has saved $490,000 in adjudication costs, the city said.
* Misdemeanor Drug Court: Offenders go through therapy and course work instead of jail. It has reduced jail time by 80,000 days.
* Johns Offender Program: Men who solicit prostitutes learn why they pursue the criminal activity and are taught to express their sexuality legally. The program saved $495,000 in trial costs. Less than 10 percent of participants were re-arrested for solicitation.
* Prostitution Outreach: Women receive counseling that addresses mental health, substance abuse and homelessness.
* Public Sex Crimes Program: Most participants are heterosexuals with families who are caught engaging in homosexual behavior in public, according to the presentation. They receive counseling for a year. Six of the 295 offenders have been re-arrested.
* Passages Program: Misdemeanor offenders must provide restitution to victims and the community.
* Homeless Court: Those with several minor violations are taught how their crimes affect the community and aided in gaining housing and social services. Adjudication costs plunged from $465 to $25 per offender, the presentation said.
In all offenses, except drunken driving, Gill offers violators pleas in abeyance. If offenders finish the program, they avoid a conviction. If they don't, Gill takes them to court.
Salt Lake City says other cities can copy the model and those in Utah may want to. The state has the nation's highest recidivism rate, according to the city.
"Once they go to prison, they're more likely to go back to prison," Gill said. "We can continue to warehouse [violators] or we've got to figure out how do we peel away a certain proportion of people out of there that don't belong there."