A recent Deseret News editorial, "Let judges make release call," wrongly confused issues while purporting problems that don't exist. The editorial erroneously tied together early release issues with alternative forms of incarceration. They are different issues.
Early release occurs for a variety of reasons and is only directed by the sheriff's office as it relates to the judicially ordered federal consent decree. Alternative forms of incarceration, like electronic monitoring, statutorily fall within the authority of the county sheriff.First, judges sentence prisoners and remand them to the "custody" of county sheriffs. Normally, those sentenced to the county jails in our state serve time for misdemeanors carrying less than one year of confinement. Currently for such crimes, judges do not have sentencing options that include electronic monitoring. Although confusing, the Deseret News editorial seems to focus on the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Electronic Monitoring program. Before sentenced prisoners are placed into this program, they must meet a number of strict requirements. They don't simply "walk free" as insinuated by the Deseret News editorial writers.
Second, the electronic monitoring program used by the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office is a level of incarceration, not an alternative to incarceration. It takes individuals who have been carefully screened and places them into a level of "custody" that requires them to work and produce, but remain in custody. Many times, they are able to keep their jobs that they might otherwise lose. If they don't have a job, they are given jobs serving public needs on work details in cities and the county.
For example, if a man is convicted and sentenced for non-support of his children and sent to jail, he would normally lose the income that can support those very same children. Everybody loses. If that same man can keep his job and pay his back support as a condition of participating in the electronic monitoring program, only he loses.
Judges don't have a monopoly on providing responsible government. They are limited by state law, just like every other government entity. Electronic monitoring at the county level is a proven concept that has been successfully used by sheriffs around the country.
Under this program, a prisoner remains in the "custody" of be county sheriff while being less burdensome to taxpayers and those normally supported by that prisoners income. While leaving "level of custody" only in the hands of judges might be an admirable idea to some, it simply isn't the intent of the legislature and, thereby, the people.
The Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office makes every effort to work closely with our judges. Over the past few years, jail overcrowding and population management have become critical problems. The federal consent decree still in effect on the metropolitan jail was issued by a judge. That decree requires the sheriff to manage the jail population by releasing prisoners when that population is too high. Sometimes, judges get upset when prisoners are released under this judicially mandated requirement. In the case of elec-tronic monitoring, prisoners are still serving their court-ordered sentence, and they are still in the "custody" of the sheriff.
It is sometimes ironic that those who complain the most about the critical issue of jail overcrowding raise the biggest dissent when something constructive and useful is instituted to deal with that same issue. Some are quick to criticize, yet very slow to support.