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News » Hits & Misses

Unanswered Questions

Commentary on Operation Rio Grande, the Justice Reinvestment Initiative and historic statues at the Utah Capitol.



Last-Ditch Effort
As if our country wasn't militarized enough, Salt Lake City's homeless area now has helicopters overhead and police boots on the ground in a cross-jurisdictional plan called Operation Rio Grande. That's not to say there isn't a problem. The drug trade has corrupted any hope that the homeless population had in the city. While Mayor Jackie Biskupski says the effort will be ongoing for two years, any hyped-up police forces are doomed if fleeting or misdirected. Community activist Michael Clara notes that many of the homeless are already relocating farther west. KSL reports that three previous sweeps netted a lot of addicts, 70 percent of whom opted for treatment over jail. And yet the problems persisted. This attempt is supposed to be more systemic, with both jail beds and treatment beds available. If only the smaller, targeted shelters were ready now—and communities willing to accept them—a solution might be at hand.


Unanswered Questions
Jails are one thing, prisons another. Remember when the decision was made to move the state prison? The promise to a reluctant Salt Lake City was more focus on treatment and cutting down on recidivism. The Deseret News took a look back at the Justice Reinvestment Initiative and concluded that no one's really sure if it's working. For instance, what happens if you decriminalize drugs? Without treatment options, would the problem escalate and end up in the criminal system again? These are unanswered questions, but ones that could be better answered if Utah had agreed to full Medicaid expansion. The system is missing those resources, and is unlikely to be getting them soon. It's also missing good data to drive decisions, which aren't being made while the new prison is being built.


State Statues
It's great that a white, male legislator is drafting a bill to put a statue of a woman in the Utah Capitol, specifically a plural wife who went on to become a state senator. Women particularly love her because she beat her husband in an election. Still, it's a little unsettling that they want to boot old Philo Farnsworth from the hall. Is there just not enough room? In a Salt Lake Tribune op-ed, Don Gale wrote that even U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop—a former American history teacher—got the history wrong, saying Farnsworth is holding a sausage instead of the TV mechanism he was famous for. The argument for trashing Farnsworth is that no one knows who he is. But whether it's him or Martha Hughes Cannon, shouldn't everyone at the Capitol know who they are and why they're famous?