Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Salt Lake City Authorities Want To Dump A 300-Bed Parole Center Into An Already-Beleagured West Side

The west side of Salt Lake City, consisting of both City Council Districts 1 and 2, is not only the most diverse part of town, but also has a higher percentage of poverty than the rest of the community. This volatile mix ensures they experience the worst effects of diversity, to include chronic gangbanging, drive-by shootings, and armed robberies.

Now Salt Lake City authorities are looking for a home for a proposed 300-bed parole center. And where do they want to put it? Not in the posh University District, or up on the Avenues, or any other parts of town where the high rollers live.

They want to put it on the west side. Media stories from KSL Channel 5 and the Deseret News.

The city is looking at ordinances to allow large halfway facilities, but only in industrial areas west of Interstate 215. Proposed regulations would allow halfway houses with 30 or more residents in light industrial zones west of I-215. Smaller facilities would be allowed in light industrial and general commercial zones. The facilities could not be built within a half-mile of a residential boundary, school, nursery, church or other halfway house.

District 2 Salt Lake City Councilman Van Turner, who represents much of the west side, says he's not against the idea of a halfway house, but doesn't want it taking up valuable space in an area that could be developed. The location of the proposed 300-bed center, which eventually could accomodate up to 522 clients, is near 500 West and 900 South.

But Turner's district is already home to three halfway houses, including a 115-bed facility for Federal inmates and a 68-bed facility for sex offenders, and perhaps he's also concerned that the west side is being used as the designated dumping ground for the community's ne'er-do-wells. Nevertheless, Turner has come under fire in the past for allegedly understating and even whitewashing crime and poverty in the district; much of the criticism has come from community activist Michael Clara, who ran unsuccessfully against Turner for the District 2 City Council seat in 2007, but finished competitively. More background on Michael Clara HERE.

Studies by the Salt Lake City police department tend to indicate that there is no discernible upsurge in crime associated with existing halfway houses.

Analysis: This is the classic urban dilemma. Do we spread the burden - and the corresponding risk - of halfway houses community-wide, or do we keep it bottled up in one particular part of town? Is it fair to ask the residents of one geographical section of town to accept the greater burden and risk, particularly when that section is already under siege?

The proposed ordinance, with its emphasis on "defensible" space, is designed to limit and contain the inherent risks of halfway houses. Unfortunately, it appears most of the qualifying land for this purpose is only available on the west side. In addition, the clients of these facilities are transitioning out of prison, and have limited resources. Many don't have personal transportation, and some may be banned from driving altogether. Consequently, they need to be housed close to the jobs and in an area fully accessible to public transportation to facilitate their successful transition back to civil society and ultimate rehabilitation.

Consequently, the west side seems to be the most practical and available alternative.

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