A new study confirms a trend many lawmakers already support: Increased rehabilitation services for drug-addicted offenders offers needed short-term aid while lowering long-term impacts on taxpayers as recidivism rates drop.
The report, produced by the Utah Foundation,takes an in-depth look at efforts to address addiction within Utah’s justice system. The study also explores alternative approaches for people struggling with substance abuse and suggests courses of future action.
It offers some good news and bad news for Utah. Drug courts are proving successful in providing a post-booking alternative to incarceration for individuals who demonstrate a high need for substance treatment. But there are no pre-booking diversion programs for drug abusers.
The state’s prison system has two substance abuse programs for men and one for women, each of which has been shown to reduce rates of recidivism and drug relapse. Between the years 2014 and 2016, the number of inmates in prison declined by 12 percent.
But while the prison population decreased, the number of inmates in county jails increased by 6 percent. Utah has the nation’s seventh lowest prison inmate population per capita, but the 15th highest jail population. That disparity raises concerns for drug treatment. Only 14 of the 26 counties in the state have any type of substance abuse program; some of those efforts are more effective than others.
The state has previously recognized the value of rehabilitation services and in 2015 instituted a recidivism risk screening process in county jails. Results showed half of inmates needed further assistance for drug addictions; however, only two counties have continued to use the screening because of a lack of funding.
We agree with the study’s recommendations that state and local officials should find the means to continue to employ screening procedures in all county jails. Policymakers should also carefully examine the ratio of county jail inmates to the state prison population with an eye toward making certain the shift does not diminish the opportunity for drug abuse rehabilitation services.
Offenders also need state and local governments to continue to leverage robust and effective rehabilitation programs. The report recommends Utah policymakers closely monitor drug treatment and rehabilitation efforts in other states to determine best practices. Establishing a means for evaluating the performance of other drug courts would put Utah at the front of the pack for offering life-changing care.13 comments on this story
Utah Foundation President Peter Reichard wisely pointed out, “The potential return on investment to the public suggests policymakers have a duty to ensure a robust and effective treatment network is in place at both the state and local levels.”
Paying close attention to drug abuse treatment and inmate rehabilitation would help lift a class of Utahns now, while virtually ensuring a benefit to all taxpayers going forward. Policymakers at every level should consider these recommendations and lead the way to compassionately helping offenders get back on their feet.