Sheriff defends work release program after rape suspect escapes

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PROVO -- A man suspected of raping a UVU student last week remains in jail as investigators look at possible charges.

Shawn Leonard, 33, was serving jail time on a theft conviction. He had just qualified for the Utah County Jail's jail industries program, which allows inmates to work during the day and return to the jail at night.

In this case, Leonard got away while on the job.

What is... Jail Industries?
The Jail Industries program provides inmates with a realistic work experience to help improve employment opportunities upon release and reduce re-offending, plus lowers the county's financial commitments to maintaining the jail.

"Mr. Leonard did not escape from the jail, he walked away from the program after he was placed at the worksite," said Sheriff Jim Tracy with the Utah County Sheriff's Office. "He walked away before there was a deputy that came back to check on him and others at that workplace."

Tracy defended the jail industries program Monday. He says that it provides an opportunity for inmates -- who will all be eventually released -- to reintegrate with society and gain work skills.

Only those inmates considered low-risk qualify.

A warrant was issued for Leonard's arrest as soon as deputies realized he was gone.

Shawn Michael Leonard
Shawn Michael Leonard

Tracy says the public wasn't notified because Leonard wasn't considered a risk, or he would not have been in work release in the first place.

"He had a nonviolent history, he was not convicted of any sexual assault or sex crime at all, so in our minds, he is a low-risk individual," Tracy said. "That doesn't mean he could not -- and apparently in this case -- didn't make a bad decision and committed a very violent and heinous crime."

Sheriff Tracy says officials are reviewing the work release policy but believe it was stringent to begin with.

Leonard is being held on his previous charges, as well as for robbing a Provo store at knifepoint.

So far, he is not being held in the rape of the woman last Wednesday afternoon. Provo police tell KSL they are still investigating the crime.

Leonard's bail in the robbery is set at $100,000.


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