Happy Friday, everyone….(and sorry about that smog, ugh!). A few quick updates for you to end this week. These are mainly reminders about on-going issues in Utah’s criminal justice system – they just keep cropping up.
There’s the prison, of course! News about the relocation effort is coming hard and fast now that the legislative session is nearly upon us. Mainly, the news is sort of, er, NOT prison-positive.
- Leaders in Tooele and Grantsville are speaking out against the location in that area. No surprise there – except that various officials and public administrators from Tooele County have been attending Prison Relocation meetings for many, many months now, so I’m not sure how a possible site in Tooele County can feel as though it is “coming out of nowhere.”
- In a nice change of pace, Senator Mark Madsen (R-Saratoga Springs) seems to be generally unconcerned about Eagle Mountain’s consideration as a potential relocation site. Some of his constituents, however, are very concerned with his lack of concern – and they think it might have something to do with his connections to real estate developers. Check out the Salt Lake Tribune story here. I have to say, whatever his position on prison relocation, Sen. Madsen has, in the past, made some encouraging and thoughtful comments about the need for general criminal justice reform – especially in terms of helping mentally ill and drug abusing individuals get HELP, in lieu of PRISON TIME.
Utah’s Board of Pardons & Parole has also been popping up in the news, in connection with several high profile cases. It’s good to have these regular reminders of how much unbridled power and discretion our Parole Board has, due to Utah’s indeterminate sentencing system.
- This piece in the Salt Lake Tribune about the Stephanie Sloop case, for example. Stephanie Sloop accepted a plea deal in the felony murder case of her son, Ethan Sloop (a terrible story, to be sure). The charge for this crime is a sentence of “between 20 years and natural life.” It is unclear what the sentencing guidelines for this particular crime would advise – but David County prosecutor Troy Rawlings has sent a letter directly to the Parole Board asking that they keep Ms. Sloop in prison for life. Only the Board has ultimate authority to (essentially) sentence Ms. Sloop to spend her natural life in prison – regardless of what the Sentencing Commission’s guidelines would recommend. There is no appeal process or substantive recourse for Board decisions. With several former prosecutors on the board, one can only imagine the relative weight a prosecutor’s recommendation would carry.
- Another tragic story of a mother who killed her child, this time from KSL: Shelly Flemal has already served 20 years for her crime. When Ms. Flemal was sentenced, the Weber County Attorney’s office said that it would recommend a sentence guideline of SIX YEARS. However, Ms. Flemal (like Ms. Sloop) was given a “life top” sentence…meaning that no matter the sentencing guidelines, she could die in prison – and the Parole Board is the SINGLE entity that will decide her ultimate fate. While the Board makes public some of the information that they “might” consider when making these decisions, it also makes clear that it can use (or not) any information it likes and that its decisions cannot be appealed or questioned.
- As a brief reminder, the “Justice Reinvestment” legislation drafted by the Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice is meant to include new data collection and reporting requirements for the Board of Pardons and Parole. It is absolutely essential that a government entity with this amount of power and discretion produces on-going data to the public, so that we can hold it accountable for these weighty decisions. Stay tuned throughout and after the 2015 session for more about this!
Sadly, Utah has seen another officer-involved shooting resulting in the death of a community member – this time in Salt Lake City. This is the first homicide of 2015 in Utah.
- Yesterday in the Avenues neighborhood, a man was shot and killed by a SLPD officer; the officer was allegedly attacked by the man, who had a snow shovel. In 2014, there were 14 incidents in which a community member was shot and killed by a law enforcement officer – more than twice that in 2013. (In 2014, seven additional people were shot by police but survived).
- Details – and body cam footage – are still to come, but I can say this: James Dudley Barker, 42, was an individual who was known to, and friendly with, people within the ACLU community. His death is not just another statistic in a disturbing trend, but a tragic loss to people we know and work with. So…as always, be sensitive and kind when publicly debating these office-involved shootings. No matter who the victim – or the involved officer – there are friends, families and loved ones of BOTH who are hurting.
As always, please feel free to share questions, concerns or corrections with me. Keep up the good work, and have a great weekend!