Sanpete County Jail employee reduces recidivism with health program

The Sanpete County Jail in Manti hired Cheryl Swapp as their new community health worker two years ago. She has helped reduce recidivism by 61%.

The Sanpete County Jail in Manti hired Cheryl Swapp as their new community health worker two years ago. She has helped reduce recidivism by 61%. (Cheryl Swapp)

Save Story
Leer en español

Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes

MANTI — At the Sanpete County Jail, recidivism — when an individual is sent back to jail for repeating criminal behavior — was just part of life. Some officers looked at it as a sort of "job security."

That all changed when Cheryl Swapp showed up.

Swapp wasn't the typical new hire. Before coming to the jail as a community health worker, she had worked with "behavior kids" at an elementary school. Most of the kids didn't have much parental support — they'd act out, pull Swapp's hair and throw iPads at her.

So, when Sanpete County Sheriff's Sgt. Gretchen Nunley reached out to Swapp on Facebook Messenger and asked her to consider applying for a brand new position at the jail, it was "a blessing in disguise," Swapp said.

She would have an opportunity to help some of the parents of those kids with behavioral issues — many of whom struggled with substance abuse — get out of jail for good.

"When I was hired, it was completely new," Swapp said. She had a grant and a list of goals from Intermountain Health, but said she "didn't have any idea where to go from there."

Swapp spent those first few months researching, brainstorming and talking to jail staff. Her first meetings with inmates were in the attorney room, which had a glass partition. She wasn't sure how the inmates would react to her.

Fast forward 18 months since she first started one-on-one counseling, and the inmates now ask to talk to her and get excited about her hygiene kits. She can't make it through the day without four or five former inmates calling, just to check in.

The jail had 599 repeat offender bookings in the 18 months before Swapp was hired. Since she got the community health worker program up and running, there have been 236 repeat offender bookings — a 61% drop in recidivism.

Swapp's secret? Showing inmates she cares.

About 90% of inmates plan to go right back to their old situation as soon as they get out of jail, she said. When an inmate meets with her, she maps out a personalized transition plan. She makes sure that when they leave jail, they have food, they're safe, they land in a drug-free place, they're signed up for Medicaid and they attend classes and a monthly support group meeting.

If an inmate is nervous about the transition, Swapp holds their hand.

"Sometimes, I go to their classes with them because they're scared to go themselves," she said, adding, "I went to court with them a couple times, because they're scared to go to court."

Swapp usually works with inmates who struggle with substance abuse — a group that trends show is prone to repeat offenses. It's critical that substance abusers are prepared to leave the jail — physically and socially.

"There's like a web and they can't get free because it's that group of friends," she said. "The second you get out, you've got to cut ties with those people."

When former inmates ditch their old crowd, Swapp is there to fill in the gaps. She and Brianna Timms, who is a recovering addict who now works at the Central Utah Counseling Center, organize monthly social events for ex-convicts.

The benefits of these social events are twofold, Swapp said. The primary purpose is to help former inmates find and connect with people in the same boat, but event attendance is also a helpful indicator of a former inmate's situation.

Monthly check-ins have made "a huge difference" for one former inmate, she said. "He doesn't want to use (drugs) anymore." And others have seen success in stints at rehab programs, post-jail life and pre-civilian life. One woman lost custody of her three children because of drug issues, so Swapp sent her to a rehabilitation facility.

"Now, she is actually a teacher (and) … peer support specialist at the rehab. She's back in touch with her kid, and she has been drug-free for over a year now," Swapp said.

Another man had been in and out of jail eight times for drug-related offenses — he had started using when he was just 15 years old.

"He had nowhere to go," Swapp said. "He was ready to leave this lifestyle behind and make something of himself."

She got him a spot at Valley Behavioral Health, where he's spent the last year sober. He called her the other day to invite her to his graduation.

"I wish I could tell you their names, because honestly, they all deserve recognition for being the ones strong enough to beat drug addiction," Swapp said.

Intermountain Health's community health worker grant will be up in August, but Swapp is keeping her job.

"Our sheriff is amazing, and he's fought for my position to stay here. He's worked it into the budget," she said. "The whole attitude of the jail staff has changed."

Most recent Police & Courts stories

Related topics

UtahFeaturesUpliftingCentral UtahPolice & Courts
Emma Everett Johnson covers Utah as a general news reporter. She is a graduate of Brigham Young University.


Get informative articles and interesting stories delivered to your inbox weekly. Subscribe to the Trending 5.
By subscribing, you acknowledge and agree to's Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

KSL Weather Forecast