A Salt Lake woman who admitted locking her five children in a bedroom while she went out drinking last summer was given a suspended jail sentence Thursday and ordered to continue intensive mental health counseling.
Hope V. Hutchinson, 26, pleaded guilty in February in 3rd District court to one Class A misdemeanor charge of child abuse, reduced from five counts in a plea bargain.Judge Ann Boyden suspended the one-year jail term, ordering Hutchinson to continue mental health counseling and improve her work and parenting skills before being reunited with her children.
Both the defense attorney and prosecutor Dane Nolan supported the suspended sentence.
"This is one of the rare cases where I am convinced that putting someone in jail would be counterproductive," said Nolan, adding he believes society has failed Hutchinson on several fronts.
Neither of the two fathers of her five children pay spousal support, and she gets only sporadic child support, he said. She has limited social and work skills, Nolan said, and mental health and other agencies previously turned her away.
A problem that should have been resolved by social service agencies ended up in the criminal justice system instead, Nolan said.
Other women in her situation would have turned to prostitution or selling drugs to support themselves, Nolan said, but Hutchinson resisted those answers.
Boyden agreed but said some punishment, or threat of punishment, is called for and ordered the one-year suspended jail term. That will "hang over your head" as an incentive to complete the court-ordered counseling programs, Boyden said.
Hutchinson will have to demonstrate improved parenting and work skills before she can be reunited with her children, Boyden said. Nolan said four of the five children are with their father and the fifth is with another family member, all under state supervision.
Boyden also ordered Hutchinson to perform 40 hours of community service and opted not to impose a fine, saying Hutchinson needs all of her limited funds.
Hutchinson was arrested last summer after police were called to her Central City home at 12:30 a.m. July 2 by a 7-year-old girl, the oldest of the five children.
The girl had slipped a piece of plastic from a toy between the door's frame and lock, springing the children from the room where they had spent several hours with no food and no access to a bathroom.
The girl called 911 and police responded, describing the children, ranging in age from 7 to 4, as filthy.