SALT LAKE CITY — Sheriff Jim Winder went on the attack against Republican Mark Crockett's campaign for Salt Lake County mayor Thursday, calling the ideas Crockett presented at the county jail earlier in the day "misleading and dangerous."
Crockett held a joint news conference with former U.S. Senator Bob Bennett on Thursday morning to tout criminal justice reform as part of his plan to cut the county budget and reduce the number of repeat offenders in the community.
Winder said the Crockett campaign hadn't advised jail staff it would be staging the news conference, which Crockett called a campaign oversight.
Winder said he was driving to Las Vegas when members of his staff called and told him what Crockett was proposing — what they understood to be a plan to release lesser offenders after issuing them cell phones so they could receive encouraging messages — and immediately turned his car around.
"I've tried to stay out of this county mayor's race, for obvious reasons," Winder said. "When an individual comes down to our jail and starts misrepresenting the facts and placing this agency at risk to the public of being believed we are neither effective or efficient, I'm getting involved."
Speakers at Crockett's campaign event spoke about RealVictory, which uses a six-session training program and daily automated calls to change beliefs and behaviors, according to the program's website.
Crockett said he is not proposing that RealVictory be adopted by the Salt Lake County Jail, but he invited representatives from the program to speak in order the illustrate the kinds of programs that might be effective in reforming criminal offenders and save taxpayer dollars.
Crockett said he wasn't sure why Winder was upset, and that if the sheriff had heard the presentation, he expects he would have been in agreement.
"I think that we're all on the same side in trying to find better ways every year to match the individual needs … with the programs that are going to lead to better outcomes," Crockett said.
During the news conference, Crockett proposed that using research data to match misdemeanants with appropriate rehabilitation programs would cut costs for Salt Lake County. He cited RealVictory as an example of such a program.
Bennett participated in the event by lending support for RealVictory and the Crockett campaign. Bennett said he became interested in criminal justice rehabilitation programs after principles from his book "Gaining Control" had been used to teach decision making to inmates at an Oregon jail.
Bruce Bennett, the program's executive director and Bob Bennett's nephew, also was on hand to speak more in depth about RealVictory's success in reducing the number offenders who return to jail by 54 percent, according to a BYU study.
Winder said he has never heard of RealVictory or any other program that claims to reduce recidivism by such a high percent.
The sheriff also said Crockett's presentation included allegations that Winder is requesting a $225 million budget boost to increase the number of jail beds. Winder said no such request has been made, and he labeled the assertion a "scare tactic" by the Crockett campaign.
"I've got 1,000 hard-working individuals over there that now believe their sheriff is out pitching a $200 million budget," he said. "I've got some mad employees."
Crockett explained later that the $225 million cost he referenced was the estimated price tag for jail expansion that had been made several years ago. Rehabilitation programs could mitigate the need for a jail expansion, thereby saving the county money, Crockett said.
Winder said other misrepresentations in Crockett's proposal included comments that jails are meant only for misdemeanants while prisons house felons, and the cost attributed to housing each inmate. Winder asserted the jail houses a significant number of convicted felons, many of which are considered dangerous.