Utah is taking action to reduce its prison population. The state has introduced new reforms designed to give small-time offenders second chances, while ensuring that only the most serious offenders end up in prison to eat away at the state’s tax dollars.
Under new laws, first-time and second-time convictions for possession of drugs will be converted from felonies to misdemeanors. Offenders will also have better access to substance abuse treatment services, and inmates will have the ability to reduce their prison sentences by completing specified programs. Inmates will also be offered greater assistance once they are released from prison in order to help prevent them from returning there in the future.
Utah Governor Gary Herbert said at an event, “This is an example of a state leading.”
Meanwhile the United States Senate is following the example set forth by Utah by agreeing to a legislative proposal that will reduce mandatory sentences for nonviolent offenders.
Utah Senator Mike Lee said, “The United States incarcerates more of its citizens than any other country on Earth. Mandatory minimum sentences were once seen as a strong deterrent. In reality they have too often been unfair, fiscally irresponsible and a threat to public safety.”
While crime decreased in Utah from 2004 to 2013, the state’s prison population grew by about 18% during this time period. This was six times faster than that of the national average. This led to Utah exploring methods for reducing its population of prisoners. Eventually, new reforms were passed in response to the growing problem.
If no action had been taken, Utah’s prison population would have been expected to increase by 34% by 2034. That would have brought major rises in prison spending.
Another big issue was that people sent to prison were often sent back. As of January of 2014, roughly 46% of former prison inmates in Utah returned to prison after violating parole or probation.
Gary Herbert said of the situation, “It was a revolving door. That was not a good thing for the taxpayer, certainly not a good thing for society.”
Herbert also mentioned that the majority of people imprisoned in the state were not violent offenders and were not a serious threat to the well-being of society. Many were simply victims of addiction.
The new reforms by Utah are predicted to stop prison growth in the state and save taxpayers more than $25 million per year.