County Looks at Drug Treatment as Alternative to Jail

County Looks at Drug Treatment as Alternative to Jail

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Salt Lake County officials are considering drug and alcohol treatment as an alternative to jailing for offenders.

"Let's see if we can't take care of the fundamental problems," said Ron Gordon, chairman of the county's Criminal Justice Advisory Council. "Everyone is saying we need this pressure release right now, but in the meantime, let's invest in this long term."

The $2 million proposed program calls for increased community treatment programs and a Day Reporting Center.

The center could take up to 300 offenders out of the jail and put them on a strict regimen of drug testing, group therapy and daily checkups, said Gary Dalton, director of the county division of criminal justice.

The center also would place misdemeanants in job training programs and life skills courses focused on integrating criminals into society.

"They're getting services for what is getting them into the criminal system in the first place," Dalton said. "There are a number of people that don't have good life skills -- how you cook breakfast, how you get up and go to a job."

The center would only be an alternative for criminals convicted of misdemeanors, not violent offenders or felons.

The final criteria for who would be eligible for the center has not yet been established, Dalton said.

"We could provide supervision for these individuals while they are in the community," said Pat Flemming, director of the county's division of substance abuse services. "We know where they are, they're getting treatment at the same time and we can really keep them on a tight leash."

The Day Reporting Center would cost $1 million. County council members will consider the expenditure at next week's midyear budget hearings. An additional $1 million for increased community treatment programs will also be on the list to supplement the center.

Flemming said the programs would be used to provide judges with better facts on the drug and alcohol habits of offenders.

An analysis of the risk to re-offend in the community coupled with a substance abuse assessment would help judges decide whether to send an offender to jail or to the treatment program.

Similar reports are currently encouraged before sentencing, but Flemming said the process has been "hit or miss."

Flemming said only about 14 percent of county residents in need of such treatment are getting it.

The proposal would add about 250 more slots to the county's treatment programs.

"We're trying to close all the gaps in the system. People trip on these gaps and fall," Flemming said.

Although the program will cost $2 million, Flemming said the potential savings for the county far exceeds that price as offenders are less likely to commit crimes again once they have gone through addiction therapy.

Flemming said the cost of one day of jail incarceration is $72, while one day of community-based treatment averages about $29.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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