Utah lawmakers discuss changes for ‘seamless transition’ from custody to community

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SALT LAKE CITY — Big changes may be on the horizon for those transitioning from prison and other correctional facilities back into Utah community life.

The Utah Law Enforcement Committee met to discuss many areas of improvement in the effort to reduce inmate recidivism rates throughout the state of Utah. These areas included that of securing employment, obtaining temporary identification and placing more specialized focus on the needs of female inmates statewide.

Employment

Ron Gordon, executive director for the Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice, discussed Justice Assistance Grants (JAG), which are currently the most primary source of state and local criminal funding. The grant is specifically allocated for the purpose of helping offenders obtain employment after leaving the system.

“Employment is one of the major crime risk factors,” Gordon said. He went on to say that 46% of inmates in custody are being held on violations of parole within months of initially being released.

In behalf of the Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice, Gordon gave his sure commitment to providing the necessary funding to assist departing inmates secure stable employment. Gordon’s data showed that offenders with access to Justice Assistance Grants funding experienced lower recidivism rates than those who did not have access to these type of grants.

Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice officials will continue to work closely with research centers to analyze the data and discover why the inmates are returning to prison and what additional efforts can be made to help them successfully stay out.

Temporary identification

Of the many transitional issues inmates face when leaving a correctional facility, obtaining legal identification remains one of the most pressing.

In March 2014, a Senate committee gave a favorable recommendation to HB320, a bill that would enable newly released prison or jail inmates to obtain temporary state IDs valid for six months.

“Obtaining legal identification is a very complicated but necessary process,” said Rollin Cook, executive director of the Utah Department of Corrections. Some of the biggest obstacles the inmates typically face are tracking down a valid digitized picture and proper legal documentation.

Obtaining a valid form of identification is crucial in helping people apply for jobs, obtain housing, qualify for government programs and ultimately set their lives off to a good start upon leaving jail or prison.

The committee discussed the importance of prison and jail administration working to obtain the necessary documents upon the inmate’s initial arrival and not waiting until their departure. This proactive approach to securing the proper paperwork will play a crucial role in making a smooth transition from the correctional facility back into the community.

Female inmates

In an effort to continue to decrease recidivism, specific agents within correctional facilities will be assigned to working exclusively with female inmates through specialized supervision programs.

“Women find themselves in prison for different reasons than men,” said Geri Miller-Fox, the director of parole for Utah’s Department of Corrections. “Many women come to prison having faced horrible trauma and abuse in their life; their needs need to be met.“

The goal of the program is to decrease and even eliminate interaction between male and female inmates. Many of the female inmates are faced with inherent issues concerning their safety with many of the male inmates they associate with. “The program is seeking to help with safety both before and after the correctional process,” Miller said.

Miller also emphasizes the significant role the staff can play in being attentive to the personal needs of the female inmates as each of them face their different challenges.

“This has had a very positive effect,” Miller said of the program first implemented in 2013. The third quarter of 2013 showed a notable decrease in female admission to prison. This shows the tactic of isolating men and women may be working in decreasing recidivism rates amongst women in Utah correctional facilities.

The committee also proposed that if the statistics for isolating women continue to show improvement that programs specifically catered to the needs of males ought to be implemented throughout the state.

Future

The committee plans to reconvene within the next few months to evaluate their progress toward meeting their goal of reducing recidivism rates 25% by 2017.

 

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