SALT LAKE CITY — A House committee narrowly approved a bill Tuesday that would launch a process of establishing smaller community corrections centers near population centers in Utah.
The Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee voted 5-4 to send HB126 to the full House for further consideration.
Presently, the state's three community corrections centers are in Salt Lake and Weber counties.
HB126 would more evenly distribute community corrections beds among cities of the greatest populations instead of concentrating offenders in two counties where many inmates lack family support, said the bill's sponsor, Rep. Jeremy Peterson, R-Ogden. That support is critical to their successful re-entry to their communities, he said.
Smaller community corrections facilities could be established in Davis, Utah, Cache, Tooele and Box Elder counties, Peterson said.
"The purposes of this is spread the butter evenly over the slice of bread, right?" Peterson said.
Ogden Police Chief Randy Watt spoke in favor of the bill. One of three community corrections centers statewide is in Ogden.
"No one is more concerned about recidivism than a chief of police, particularly in a city as large and diverse as Ogden," Watt said.
But Rollin Cook, executive director of the Utah Department of Corrections, spoke against the bill over concerns about cost and the possible loss of specialty programs for female offenders or people convicted of sex offenses.
"In some instances, these centers would be quite small, therefore operationally, quite costly," Cook said.
Andrew Riggle, representing the Utah Disability Law Center, said the Department of Corrections is already struggling to hire mental health providers. Establishing more centers will mean an even greater demand for thin resources, he said.
Rep. Edward Redd, R-Logan, attempted to send the bill to interim study, arguing that the issue is "way too complicated to discuss on the floor of the House."
After rejecting an attempt to refer the legislation to interim study, the committee narrowly approved the bill.