UTAH (ABC4) – It was just over two years ago that Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill announced a pre-filing diversion program, geared toward helping people with low-level crimes move forward with their lives, and now, he says that program will be expanded.
“It is going to minimize the collateral consequences on people so they can continue to be functional, so they don’t lose their job, they don’t lose their housing, it doesn’t have a negative impact on the economic well-being of their family members and it’s a proportionate response of accountability,” said Gill.
The pilot program started in 2019 and focuses on rehabilitation and reducing the Salt Lake County prison population. Gill says that 450 people have been diverted so far. 313 graduated, 37 did not and had criminal charges filed against them.
According to data, the program shows that it helped to lessen the likelihood of people reoffending with only 8.5% of graduates committing another crime.
“That saves taxpayer dollars, that keeps my officers free, frankly to go out and deal with the tsunami of very serious crime that we are dealing with in our communities today,” said Ken Wallentine, West Jordan Police Chief.
The program is voluntary and not intended for people accused of violent crimes or domestic violence.
“We have some classes they are required to attend,” said case manager Mauna Liddiard. “Those classes are meant to educate, maybe getting them thinking about what they did, learning new ways they can deal with stressors in their lives, and to come out of it feeling like they’ve made some progress.”
Liddiard says she often sees very new offenders, including young people, arrested for minor crimes and older people who have committed an offense for the first time.
“They may be under a lot of stress or something has happened that has triggered them and set them in a place they never would have normally gone,” she said.
The program will now be expanding with two additions, focusing on those in moderate risk and moderate need and increasing support for people with drug addiction.
“In those cases, we will file on them but they will still get the benefit of diversion and participate in our current model of our drug course,” Gill said.
Draper Police Chief John Eining said he hopes this program will become a model for the rest of Utah.
“Hopefully this takes off and isn’t just a Salt Lake County thing,” said Eining. “Maybe this becomes a state thing, and this really becomes a model that we can use to really change behavior, get people out of our justice system, get people back into our communities being a positive impact in communities.”
Gill says his goal is to bring 1,000-1,500 diversions into the program, which he says represents around 10% of the screenings by the Salt Lake County’s District Attorney’s office.