SALT LAKE CITY — The number of Utah criminals on parole who have fled to become fugitives has increased sharply over the past two-plus years, according to a new report.
The study found 7.5 percent of Utah’s parole and probation population were fugitives in August 2014. In January, 12 percent were fugitives — a 60 percent increase.
The Sorenson Impact Center at the University of Utah conducted the study with funding from the Utah Association of Counties. The findings were presented Thursday to a group of Utah county prosecutors, the Deseret News (http://bit.ly/2tNpbxf ) reported.
The increase has implications for the state’s high-profile Justice Reinvestment Initiative, which took effect in 2015. Among other things, the initiative allowed more low-level drug offenders to avoid prison.
The initiative’s critics see the fugitive increase as an indicator of its street-level impact, the Deseret News reported. They say the initiative pushes criminals downward through the penal system from prisons to county jails and into the parole and probation system — without adequate treatment or supervision.
From January 2010 to September 2014, the number of fugitives on parole or probation averaged 1,138 per month. But starting in October 2014, the fugitive count jumped, reaching a peak in January at just over 2,000 — a 76 percent increase.
During the same period, the total number of people on parole or probation climbed by 11 percent, the study found.
People released into the community without adequate supervision or treatment will naturally gravitate to old patterns, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said.
Critics also have pointed to the case of Corey Lee Henderson as a high-profile example of criminals released early from prison who become fugitives and commit serious crimes.
In late 2015, Henderson qualified for early release under the Justice Reinvestment Initiative and became a fugitive after checking out of a halfway house for a job interview and never returning. Less than a month later, he killed a Unified police officer. Henderson was killed shortly afterward during an exchange of gunfire that wounded another Unified officer.
State corrections officials have said the initiative had nothing to do with Henderson’s release.
This spring, the Utah Association of Counties persuaded the Legislature to appropriate $2 million to collect and analyze data to understand and improve the initiative, said Lincoln Shurtz, the group’s government affairs director.
Shurtz noted there is a need for better and faster data on crime and its impact on communities.
The association is meeting next week with the governor’s Office of Management and Budget, Shurtz said, to work on developing systems that will streamline data collection and dissemination, eventually populating databases available to the public in close to real time.