Most Utahns, when they complain about the criminal justice system, argue for tougher laws or longer terms behind bars. Yet the problems are not so much the kind of sentences handed down by judges as they are what to do with offenders.
There is a shortage of jail space, the prison is overcrowded, and there aren't enough parole officers to effectively keep track of those who have been released. In addition, the state lacks a centralized computer system that lets prosecutors know if a defendant is wanted somewhere else in the state on another charge.Those items were listed this week by 3rd Circuit Court Judge Leroy Griffiths, who is asking the Legislature for money to tie together computer systems to track bench warrants in the state. Although he was talking chiefly about dealing with drunken drivers, the same situation applies to all classes of crime.
The logical consequence of getting tough on lawbreakers, including drunken drivers, those guilty of child abuse, and the growing number involved in drug abuse, drug trafficking, and related crimes, is that there simply are more convicted persons in the system.
This in turn, demands a place to imprison them, or an effective way to supervise them if they are released on probation or parole.
Utahns need to realize that if they want hard-nosed law and order - and the majority seem to favor this approach - then there is a subsequent cost to the taxpayers for expensive jails and prisons.
It is simply not possible to have it both ways - be tough on crime and at the same tine, cut the corrections budget. Some states - Texas is the biggest example - have begun releasing inmates early because of the housing problem. In Texas, that move was a court-ordered solution.
However, early release has its drawbacks as well. The caseload for probation and parole officers is enormous. One parole officer can have up to 75 felons to keep track of, while probation officers have caseloads averaging 100 or more persons. State officials say it is "impossible" for one officer to properly supervise that many clients.
Under the circumstances, it makes sense to put more money into the system for more jails and better parole supervision. Trying to go only halfway doesn't solve the problem or - in the long run - lower the expense.