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Lawmaker Introduces Criminal Justice Overhaul

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Jesse Michael Nix via Creative Commons
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Utah is poised to overhaul its criminal justice system in one landmark bill unveiled today at the state capitol.

The bill is expected to save the state hundreds of millions of dollars in the next two decades by reducing prison stays for non-violent offenders. House Bill 348, sponsored by Republican representative Eric Hutchings, changes the guidelines for how adult probation and parole manages offenders. He says that means increasing treatment and supervision for those who suffer from drug addictions and mental health disorders.

“It will no longer be that when somebody stumbles and falls off the track so to speak that its months and months down the road before we have an opportunity to take a look at why and get them back on track,” Hutchings says. “It’s gonna be right now.”

Corrections officials say while Utah’s incarceration rate is below the national average, offenders are staying in prison longer. Utah also incarcerates drug offenders at a higher rate than other states.

To lower that number, HB 348 drops the drug distribution penalty from a second degree felony to a third degree felony. And the possession penalty goes from a 3rd degree felony to a class A misdemeanor. 

Ron Gordon Directs the Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice. The organization supports the bill. 

“This is a heavy lift,” Gordon says. “We are not picking low hanging fruit. We are asking for very significant substantive changes in our criminal justice system.”

Representative Hutchings says Utah Governor Gary Herbert’s Medicaid expansion plan would help provide more funding for substance abuse treatment programs. The effort will cost about $15 million annually.

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