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Protecting the Bill of Rights in Utah since 1958

Justice Reinvestment Legislation a Step in the Right Direction

17 February 2015 Published in Newsroom

ACLU of Utah cautiously optimistic about HB384, “Correctional Amendments,” criminal justice reform bill based on CCJJ/Pew recommendations.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: 
February 18, 2015 

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SALT LAKE CITY – Rep. Eric Hutchings and Sen. Stuart Adams today unveiled their legislation based on several criminal justice reform recommendations made last November by the Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice (CCJJ), informed by data collection and analysis by the Pew Public Safety Performance Project.

The ACLU of Utah is pleased to note that those 18 common-sense reforms – projected to avert up to 97% of expected growth in Utah’s prison population over the next 20 years – appear largely intact in HB 384, “Criminal Justice Programs and Amendments.”

“This legislation is absolutely a step in the right direction,” says Karen McCreary, Executive Director of the ACLU of Utah. “We’re pleased that our policymakers have taken the Governor’s charge for reform seriously, and have gone well beyond just tinkering to propose some real, substantive reforms.”

The ACLU of Utah is particularly enthusiastic that recommendations to change some drug possession penalties for low-level, non-violent offenders are included in the legislation. These changes will bring Utah’s approach to low-level drug crimes in line with that of the federal government and a dozen other states. This policy change alone is expected to empty several hundred beds at the Utah State Prison within the next two to three years.

“The changes to drug possession penalties are both very modest and extremely significant,” says Anna Brower, ACLU of Utah Public Policy Advocate. “Utahns are ready to approach substance abuse and drug possession in a less expensive, more common-sense way; this legislation takes us closer to a public health approach, and away from an incarceration approach.”

Other key provisions of the legislation would: direct more state funding for community-based treatment for mentally ill people and those with substance abuse problems; make other minor sentencing changes for low-level non-violent offenses; establish caps for parole and probation revocations; and authorize the Board of Pardons and Parole to apply any time spent in jail during probation toward an inmate’s prison term, should probation be revoked.

The ACLU of Utah is supportive of these changes, which will likely help both to restrain the actual length of prison stays for Utah inmates, and to reduce the number of low-level, non-violent offenders occupying state prison beds. Increasing length of stay, and new court commitments for non-violent offenders, were identified by CCJJ and Pew as primary drivers of Utah’s growing prison population.

“There are still many serious criminal justice issues left to grapple with in Utah, including our woefully under-funded system of indigent defense, the persistent racial disparities for both juveniles and adults and the discretion concentrated in the Board of Pardons and Parole,” says McCreary. “This is a great start, though, and we applaud the sponsors.”

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