Utah’s 2015 Policy Reforms Expected to Eliminate Projected Prison Growth Over 20 Years
Date:  10-01-2015

Decreasing incarceration for nonviolent offenses, reducing length of prison stays and increasing support for people on parole are some of the measures that will save taxpayers $500 million
Via Pew Charitable Trusts

On March 31, Utah Governor Gary Herbert (R) signed into law sentencing and corrections legislation that employs research-driven policies to deliver a greater public safety return. The state’s Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice, an interbranch group of state and local officials, developed the legislation—H.B. 348—with technical assistance from The Pew Charitable Trusts as part of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, a public-private partnership. The reforms are expected to eliminate almost all projected prison growth over 20 years, save more than $500 million, and redirect nearly $14 million into evidence-based strategies to reduce recidivism.


Although crime in Utah fell during the past two decades, the state’s prison population grew by 18 percent from 2004 to 2013, six times faster than the national average. Without changes to policies and practices, the state projected that its prison population would grow by 2,700 inmates, or 37 percent, by 2034, costing taxpayers more than $500 million.


The commission conducted an extensive data review and found that the state sentenced more offenders to prison for drug possession than for any other crime in 2013. The average time served rose 18 percent for all offenders from 2004 to 2013. In addition, the commission determined that probation and parole success rates had declined in the past decade and that offenders sent back to prison for violating supervision rules made up two-thirds of all prison admissions in 2013.


The commission developed 18 policy options aimed at prioritizing prison space for serious and violent offenders, strengthening community supervision, improving and expanding reentry and treatment services, supporting local corrections systems, and ensuring oversight and accountability. Specific reforms included downgrading all first- and second-time drug possession convictions from felonies to misdemeanors and 241 misdemeanors to citations no longer subject to arrest or jail.


Utah’s criminal justice reform legislation is expected to avoid nearly all anticipated prison growth and save taxpayers more than $500 million over 20 years. Accompanying budget measures immediately redirected nearly $14 million toward reducing recidivism by strengthening community supervision, public safety initiatives, and evidence-based treatment programs.

Read full issue brief here.