So far, more than 1,000 people have been arrested in the multi-agency crackdown on lawlessness around the homeless shelter, a mission dubbed Operation Rio Grande.
Those who aren’t cut loose, of course, are entitled to representation as their criminal cases progress through the legal system. And at the risk of inundating an already bogged system with new defendants, the Utah Indigent Defense Commission voted Wednesday to allocate grant money for a couple more defense attorneys.
The money, which comes from a “critical need grant,” is for $184,000 for this year and next and is designed to alleviate the workload of public defenders by adding two new attorneys to the ranks.
This news comes the same week the county announced a new specialty court program that is being offered to qualified inmates. This is part of Operation Rio Grande’s second of three phases. Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams noted the upfront cost of addiction treatment would ultimately save the taxpayers in the long run.
“For every dollar that we spend on treatment, up to three dollars are saved in crime reduction,” he said Thursday at a press conference.
Booked individuals are evaluated, and those who qualify and want to get treatment will begin in the next couple weeks the program. McAdams said two sittings judges have agreed to volunteer their time overseeing the court, as has a third retired judge.
The program is designed to provide structure for those needing treatment, and links those individuals with a case manager, behavior health services and an officer.
“We can’t afford to incarcerate our way out of this,” McAdams continued.
However, a component of Operation Rio Grande was to open up 300 new jail beds. Salt Lake County Sheriff Rosie Rivera said the expanded jail space is an important step in ensuring hardened criminals aren’t released back onto the streets.
“I appreciate the county is committed to balancing both the need for treatment and also the need to house criminals,” she said. The sheriff’s office has implemented a program to track whether the treatment programs are effective. “We have to have that balance between treatment and jail space. The success of Operation Rio Grande really depends on those two things.”