SALT LAKE CITY — In Cache County, qualifying low-level offenders are undergoing job training instead of serving jail time under a pilot program launched last summer.
The House Education Committee on Wednesday endorsed HB106, which would provide competitive grants to cover administrative costs of the initiative and replicate it in other communities that also have state technical colleges.
Terryl Warner, director of victim services for the Cache County Attorney’s Office, said she created a small pilot program in July called Cache Achieve to give low-level offenders an opportunity to undergo certificate or job training at Bridgerland Technical College as an alternative to serving jail time.
The program is rigorous. Participants must achieve a B average in their classes and maintain a 90 percent attendance rate, she said.
Participants have to cover the costs of the training program themselves, although some students may qualify for government grants or scholarships.
Of the 13 participants selected for the small pilot program, three have completed job training programs and other requirements of the pilot. One woman who received training and certification in home health care and phlebotomy is "making a living wage and doing well," Warner said.
Another participant who had picked up four charges over six months for domestic violence offense has "stayed clean, sober and out of trouble" since entering the program," she said.
The program also requires participants to undergo counseling and work with the Department of Workforce Services' Work Success program, which prepares people to seek and compete for jobs.
"People can find a job. This is setting them up to find a career," Warner said.
Offenders who have participated in Cache Achieves have entered plea agreements with prosecutors. Instead of doing jail time, they have committed to job training and other requirements. If they complete the program, criminal charges can be dismissed or reduced. People who do not meet the requirements can be sentenced to jail.
"It’s not a really easy program. Those who are going through it are succeeding," said Warner, who is also a member of the elected Utah State Board of Education.
HB106, sponsored by Rep. Val Potter, R-North Logan, seeks about $200,000 in funding to pay for prosecuting attorneys' administrative costs. Warner said prosecutors need to oversee participants because they can negotiate plea agreements, help participants get their charges reduced when they succeed or seek their return to jail if they do not meet the requirements of the program.
The pilot dovetails with Utah's larger criminal justice reforms.Comment on this story
"My hat’s off to you. This is a great bill," said Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns, a proponent of criminal justice reforms.
If all 13 people in the pilot complete the program, there will be an estimated $50,000 in cost savings — about $11,200 for incarceration costs and $39,300 for probation supervision because neither service will be needed, Warner said.
Potter said the pilot program would help people "who have struggled in life" get on a career path.
"This gives them an opportunity to put themselves in a position they can improve their lives," he said. "We're opening a door to them."