Utah Department of Corrections

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We are pleased to officially launch a new intervention program for female offenders and announce the renaming of our West Valley City correctional center in honor of a true champion in the criminal justice community — Judge Judith Atherton.

Judge Atherton, who retired from the bench in 2013 after a stellar legal career, has long been a vocal advocate for more community resources to meet the needs of offenders — particularly women — with substance abuse and mental health issues.

We can think of no one more deserving of this honor than Judge Atherton, who by way of example and patient advocacy has pushed the criminal justice system to do more to help those who have made poor choices, struggled with mental health issues that contribute to criminal behavior or succumbed to the snares of addiction.

We believe that in naming the facility after Judge Atherton our Adult Probation and Parole staff at the center will be inspired by her example, while the women sheltered there will come to know there are people like Atherton who offer support, guidance, encouragement and hope.

Judith Atherton is a native of Toledo, Ohio. She graduated from Wellesley College and the S. J. Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah.

Atherton worked for the Legal Aid Society and as an assistant attorney general in the Criminal Appeals Division before being appointed to the bench in 1995 by former Gov. Michael O. Leavitt. 

Judge Atherton was assigned to the criminal division of the Third District Court and oversaw numerous high profile cases. In 2004, Judge Atherton took over supervision of the district's Mental Health Court, where she championed the cause of individuals with mental illness in the criminal justice system. 

Judge Atherton served as co-chair of the Standing Committee on Children and Family Law, and served on the Committee for Improvement of Jury Service, the Board of District Court Judges, the Utah Judicial Council, the Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice and the Prison Relocation and Development Authority.

She was named chair of the Commission of Criminal and Juvenile Justice in April.

The Atherton Community Treatment Center, housed in the former Fremont Community Correctional Center, will be the Department's second facility devoted to women — a population that has unfortunately increased in recent years and one that Judge Atherton has correctly acknowledged needs more help from us.

Our Orange Street Community Correctional Center, also a 60-bed residential facility, continues to assist women who are paroling from prison as they transition back into the community.

The Atherton center, which began accepting clients on April 17, is for women who have violated their probation or parole conditions and are at risk of being returned to jail or prison.

The women will be referred to the program by a probation or parole agent. Once in the program they'll work through a structured program that ranges in length from 7 days to 120 days, depending on their individual needs.

The program is part of the Department's Female Offender Success Initiative, which is based on the philosophy that programs and strategies used with female offenders should be gender responsive.

In part, that means addressing underlying trauma that may be at the root of poor choices; recognizing the importance of relationships in a woman's life; and using rehabilitation strategies tailored to a woman's needs. The tool used to determine those needs is the Women's Risk Needs Assessment, developed by the University of Cincinnati.

The center's programs will include education and employment help, an array of life skills classes (Moving On; Seeking Safety; Beyond Trauma; Parenting & Reunification, etc.), and health and relapse prevention courses.

Holli Simmonds, Atherton Community Treatment Center director, developed the framework for the new program over the past two years.

"We think we've come up with something innovative and can see other states wanting to model it," said Simmonds.