Parole violators represented the largest admission group for the Utah Department of Corrections in 2021 — 67%, or two-thirds of all admissions, compared to probation violators' 18%.

That's why the department, in coordination with the Davis County Sheriff's Office, has expanded programming and reentry services that address individuals' recidivism risk factors.

Davis County officials held a press conference Wednesday to discuss the latest efforts to lower recidivism rates. The new programming, which began Monday, includes mental health and peer support services, as well as training for navigating parole, improving financial literacy, enhancing work portfolios and other practical skills.

Davis Behavioral Health, which contracts with the sheriff's office, will help administer classes specializing in mental health and peer support.

The core program, Living in Balance, is "customizable, comprehensive and evidence-based," and takes about six months to complete, according to the sheriff's office. Its 47 sessions are designed so that participants can enter at any point during the session cycle, and are effective in both group and individual settings.

Topics include drug treatment and recovery, skills for handling emotions, preventing relapse, practical living skills and managing distorted thinking and behaviors.

Living in Balance was developed by health research company Danya International and tested as part of a project funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, according to a news release. And it's "been proving to retain clients in treatment and reduce alcohol and other drug use."

Randall Honey, inmate placement program director with the Utah Department of Corrections, said Living in Balance is new to Davis County but has been well tested elsewhere. The department is working on expanding the new programming to other jails it contracts with, he said.

Because parole violators make up the largest percentage of the department's admissions, "we wanted to address their needs ... and have them be successful," Honey said.

While it's too soon to say how much the new programming will impact parole violators, Honey said the department expects it will reduce recidivism rates.

The likelihood of a parolee returning to prison is often influenced by the bad relationships and poor habits, like drug use, that brought them to prison in the first place, he said. So by giving parolees skills to get jobs, build healthy relationships with their families and communities and otherwise be successful, "it helps them stay focused and stay away from those negative events in their lives."

Lena Gustafson, deputy programming director with the Utah Department of Corrections, added that a person's criminal thinking hasn't necessarily changed when they're paroled. That's why much of the new programming has a cognitive behavioral focus, helping offenders reshape the bad thinking patterns that contribute to their recidivism risk factors, she said.

Nine people have enrolled in the new programming so far, Gustafson said, with more waiting to begin.

The goal, she said, is "to help these offenders reenter society successfully."