New law to reduce youth detention population focus of public hearing

Southern Utah Rep. Lowry Snow addresses the audience at a public hearing at St. George City Hall regarding new guidelines for admitting youth to detention centers, St. George, Utah, July 10, 2017 | Photo by Joseph Witham, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Utah’s juvenile detention centers will soon begin admitting fewer young children and low-level offenders under new admission guidelines set to go into effect in August. The Utah Division of Juvenile Justice Services held a public hearing Monday evening at St. George City Hall to discuss the topic with audience members.

The new rules come on the heels of sweeping legislation passed and signed into law in the 2017 Utah Legislature overhauling the juvenile justice system and will amend Utah administrative code regarding guidelines for admission to secure youth detention facilities.

Focusing on low-level and first-time offenders

Southern Utah Rep. Lowry Snow, who was in attendance at Monday’s hearing, sponsored “Juvenile Justice Amendments,” designated as HB 239 in the 2017 Legislature.

Citizens attend a public hearing at St. George City Hall regarding new guidelines for admitting youth to detention centers, St. George, Utah, July 10, 2017 | Photo by Joseph Witham, St. George News

“There was a lot to the bill. I think it was one of the – in terms of volume – one of the largest bills passed this last session,” Snow said. “Its main focus was to keep youth out of the juvenile justice system by providing early intervention, especially those youth involved in low-level offenses and first-time offenders.”

Data examining what happens when kids are placed in secure facilities versus probation was evaluated extensively when the legislation was drafted.

“What we found was – especially for low-level offenders and first-time offenders – the more involvement our young people were having with the juvenile justice system, the more likely we were to see them again, the higher the recidivism,” Snow said.

Under the legislation, some of the resources previously dedicated to detention centers will be diverted to early intervention strategies working directly with youth and their families.

We still want to hold these young people accountable,” Snow said, “because that’s important, not only for society, but for their rehabilitation.”

The changes are aimed primarily at low-risk offenders.

“There’s nothing in this legislation that is intended to put dangerous youth out into the public.”

Many children were previously placed in detention centers for school-based offenses, Snow said, such as truancy. Snow said:

The data shows, again, by coming up with alternative ways for dealing with those offenses gives us better outcomes in the long run. It prioritizes and emphasizes the value of children in their homes … instead of taking them out of their homes to meet their needs, leaving them in their homes and bringing resources to them and their family. Kids do better instinctively when they’re with their families.

Changes to admission guidelines

Photo by Alex Raths / iStock / Getty Images Plus; St. George News

The stated goals of the new guidelines, according to the Utah Division of Juvenile Justice Services, are to protect the community, hold youth accountable and ensure that only youth who are an immediate risk to the community are admitted to detention.

Many of the new guidelines for detention admission criteria are a requirement under the new legislation and include several key removals, additions and revisions to previous code.

Several previous admission guidelines were removed, including:

  • Three or more misdemeanors in a single criminal episode are no longer necessarily grounds for admission to detention.
  • Youth who have failed to appear in court on a criminal offense in the past 12 months.
  • Youth who run from court-ordered placement.

The additions are as follows:

  • Youth ages 10 and 11 can only be admitted on charges classified as violent felony.
  • Any single misdemeanor, as opposed to three, involving harm against another person or weapons violations are now admissible offenses.
  • Four new class A misdemeanors for sexual offenses, such as sexual battery and lewdness, are now included as admissible offenses.
  • Traffic offenses involving DUI charges and leaving the scene of a crash with injury.

Undocumented and unaccompanied youth involved in immigration-specific cases may now only be held at the request of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. They can still be held for offenses committed under the same requirement as any other youth.

The guideline changes dovetail with the legislation’s goal of reducing the detention centers’ population of low-level offenders and are projected to reduce the number of children entering the system on new charges.

We’re projecting that there will be an overall 10.6 percent reduction in admission for youth in detention on new charges,” Donovan Bergstrom, Juvenile Justice Services program director, said.

Offenders in the 10 to 11 age group will be impacted most by the new rules, with an anticipated reduction of admissions on new charges of 71 percent. Of the 32 children in that age group admitted to detention in the last fiscal year, only nine would have been admitted under the new guidelines.

Other age groups all hold to a similar average of about a 10 percent reduction, according to the division’s projections.

Public comment

Three different audience members questioned how the guidelines may affect youth who may have otherwise been held in detention receive help, especially those coming from potentially abusive situations.

“If we were using detention for family issues, for abuse and neglect in the past,” Bergstrom said, “we shouldn’t have been doing that.”

Bergstrom said that he is aware of cases in which youth who were suicidal or experiencing family issues were admitted to detention.

We should be able to, as a good system, provide that support in the home or in shelters or in other youth services through the local mental health authority or other community agencies,” he said.

Snow reiterated that such youth and other low-level offenders can face strong elements of criminality from higher-risk populations during their stay in detention.

“The worst case scenario in many cases is putting those children who have some problems in an environment with young people who have significant serious problems,” Snow said.

Division of Juvenile Justice Services Reg Garff addresses the audience at a public hearing at St. George City Hall regarding new guidelines for admitting youth to detention centers, St. George, Utah, July 10, 2017 | Photo by Joseph Witham, St. George News

Instead of resorting to confinement, first-time and low-level offenders will be provided with alternative care under the provisions of the new legislation.

“Attached to all of our detention centers across the state, we do have receiving centers and shelters, so there are other locations for those youth to go,” said Reg Garff, Juvenile Justice Services director for rural areas in the state, including Washington County. “We are bolstering those resources.”

New resources, such as crisis intervention centers, will be opened, especially in rural areas.

“Where those services have not been available 24 hours in the past,” Garff said, “they are now.”

Comment period ends soon

All comment on the new rules must be heard and recorded by July 24 before they go into effect Aug. 1.

The public hearing in St. George was the first of three, and the other two are scheduled to take place in Salt Lake City and Logan at the following times and locations:

  • Tuesday, July 11, from 7-9 p.m. | Salt Lake City Library, 210 E. 400 S. (Conference Room, Level 4), Salt Lake City.
  • Wednesday, July 12, from 7-9 p.m. | Logan Library, 255 N. Main St. (Bridger Room), Logan.

Anyone wishing to comment outside of the meetings can email [email protected] with the subject line R547-13. Questions about the new legislation can be sent to [email protected].


Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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  • Utahguns July 11, 2017 at 11:31 am

    Well, then let’s create an environment where our jails are not “country clubs”.
    This slang term for a jail is one that usually is more lenient to the inmates. They can watch tv, take classes, work inside, etc. It’s an easy stretch of time. Most of these are county jails, not the longer term prisons, where the majority of the population of inmates are low end criminals.

    I don’t think there’s enough being done to discourage wanna-be criminals to go to jail.
    Like chain gangs….. Convict labor would shorten jail terms and save money for the state. “You work somebody six days a week, 12 hours a day, they don’t have time to sit around and think about how to be stupid anymore. Plus, it’s not the type of exercise inmates want and would be a discouragement to serving jail time for crimes committed. (What, you mean the crime rate would more than likely drop? God forbid!)

    The states who have outlawed capital punishment have also seen extremely high rates of crime. Criminals in these states who murder know the worst punishment they will receive is a life sentence. In other words, their incarceration, per diems, health care and education will be paid for by us, the taxpayer.

    We as adults influence our children, whether good or bad.
    How about we influence our children in a way that jail and prison is “not where you want to go.”
    In other words, if you end up incarcerated, it should be the most miserable and painful time in your life.

    • ladybugavenger July 11, 2017 at 3:34 pm

      Yeah, how about that. Makes sense to me.

  • Who July 11, 2017 at 4:01 pm

    You obviously have never been to jail. As a person who has and am now a business owner here in St. George I can say without a reasonable doubt that you are just another blowhard that doesn’t have an idea what you’re talking about. Keep in mind you can raise your children right and they can still go bad with all the negative influences nowadays. Now, before you go spouting liberal or whatever else comes into your infant mind I am a Republican and always have been and voted Republican in every election. It’s Obama/Hillary haters like you that have been 40% of the reason our beloved country under God is in the shape it is in. The other 40% are left wing. 20% of us still love our country and our fellow citizens.

    In other words, grow up, go outside and look around. I promise you will form your own opinions if you give yourself a chance.

    • ladybugavenger July 11, 2017 at 6:53 pm

      You never know what jail is like until you go there. I get it, I know. But people still keep going back. LOL! It’s people’s hearts that are damaged and a good spanking would make them think twice and put the fear of God in ‘me….oh wait! You can’t spank your kids or you get them taken away….shoot! Kids know that and use it to be bad. The government took power away from parents and gave it to misbehavin’ children. Better build more jails for those misbehav’n, disrespect’n children that grow up to be misbehave’n, good for noth’n adults.

  • mmsandie July 11, 2017 at 5:24 pm

    Utah guns is right.. I have taken classes with police and seen the jail, back in New England they have jails, prisons and country club prisons fir the rich and famous who commit crimes.. He is right color TV.. Sports to do libraries etc. The right place us Maricopa county jail in Arizona, they live in tents 115 degree temps, Bologna sandwiches.. And 80 % do not return .. I’ve seem homeless people kill one another under a bridge , just to get put in prison for a comfortable life…instead of being outside.
    I didn,t vote for Trump and see all no crimes he has committed and not fined or in jail.. No paid taxes in 20 yrs.. And now his son thinks he did nothing wrong meeting with Russians over elections to make sure Donald git elected.. Before Trumo was elected he had 200 or more court cases to settle on different issues and has to wait to be called, from nt laying contractors and so many bankruptcies.. Convicts should work more, no pay, pay for food inside.. Etc it’s too easy for them..

    • ladybugavenger July 12, 2017 at 11:21 am

      The Russians did not make people vote for Trump. Hillary was corrupt for years before any talk about Russian interference. She is horrible! So is obama!

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