More and more minorities are getting sent to prisons in Salt Lake City as well as other counties in Utah. Blacks, Latinos, and Native Americans are being sent to jail even before they are proven guilty merely because they cannot avail of the services of a bail bondsman such as Beehive Bail Bonds or their bonds are outrageously high. In 2017, 42 percent of all sentenced to prison were minorities, a sharp rise from the 33 percent of 2016.
Locked Up Before Trial Starts
Utah prisons are teeming with inmates who haven’t even been judged guilty of a crime. Close to 50 percent of all Utah prison inmates are either undergoing a trial or still waiting for their appointed court date. Utah inmates awaiting trial in prison are partly composed of minorities who chose to forego the services of bail guarantors due to economic issues, ignorance, or outright lack of hope. Utah judges are predominantly white, and studies have shown that minorities are more likely to have higher bonds, a higher likelihood of being found guilty, and longer sentences compared to their white counterparts.
The Cost of Incarceration
Losing their freedom isn’t the only consequence of being incarcerated. Families can lose their primary income earner, putting them at risk. Plea deals that cut time and avoid lengthy trials become attractive to the accused—whether innocent or guilty—just so that he can get back to his family and start earning again. Lengthy incarcerations can mean the loss of work opportunities, housing, and sometimes even family. A prison environment can also hurt individuals, making them more prone to choose a life of crime and violence. Families of incarcerated individuals who lose their primary income earner also have a higher risk of turning to illegal activities to provide for their daily needs.
Substance Abuse, Addiction, and Mental Health
Mental illness and substance abuse—when untreated—can lead to criminal acts. The majority of inmates in Utah, as well as the rest of the U.S., are individuals with mental illnesses or substance abuse problems. These individuals don’t belong in prison. Prisons are ill-equipped to deal with these individuals, especially those with the tendency to inflict self-harm. Substance abuse withdrawals can also become unmanageable or dangerous in prisons that lack the necessary facilities and medication to treat affected inmates. Medical facilities and rehabilitation centers are a better fit to deal with these individuals, and imprisonment can be dangerous.
Reforming the System
In late May of 2018, Utah courts instituted changes that revolutionized the way judges could view accused individuals. Judges are now given better information regarding a suspect’s background, prior violent offenses, and overall flight risk. Suspects with no prior offenses as well as substance abuse cases can be given more lenient treatment, lowering the required bail. These changes will help prevent incarceration to all but the most dangerous of suspects and will alleviate the burden of Utah’s overly populated prison system.
Changes in the way bails are set can be a big help to the accused and their families. However, the state still needs to address the growing problems of substance abuse and mental health and make sure that these cases are treated properly.