SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 Utah) Phase two of Operation Rio Grande went into action Thursday.
People suffering from mental illness and addiction at the Salt Lake County jail are now getting assessed by more than 40 professionals for placement in treatment programs and drug court.
This comes as county leaders aim to move non-violent offenders out of jail and on a path to treatment.
“We cannot arrest our way out of this problem,” Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams said.
Kurt Landenberger participated in the First Step Home treatment program in 2014. The life-long addict received five months of treatment after committing a felony that could have sent him to prison for life. He now has a steady job and is engaged to be married.
“The cool thing about Operation Rio Grande is that it shows these people are human and they deserve a chance,” Landenberger said.
“We need to understand people’s circumstances. We need to understand what’s going on out there,” Utah Speaker of the House Greg Hughes said.
The path to treatment will include a specialty drug court program, and include care by six providers paid for by Medicaid.
More than 240 residential treatment beds will be available in the county. However, homeless mental health advocate Bernie Hart has concerns.
“As good as their intentions are, this problem has been in existence all over the country for some time. These methods that they’re proposing have been used in communities, just in a different format and have failed,” Understanding Us’ Bernie Hart said.
That said, Operation Rio Grand organizers remain hopeful.
“The best care sometimes isn’t jail. With this program, it will help those to get treatment, get help, and maybe not show up at our door again,” Salt Lake County Sheriff Rosie Rivera said.
Starting next week, a specialty drug court meets for the first time which will connect non-violent offenders to the structured treatment program. Two judges will oversee it, with one coming out of retirement to help with Operation Rio Grande.