Commission recommendations to protect public safety, control prison growth presented to governor

SALT LAKE CITY (Nov. 12, 2014) – The Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice (CCJJ) today announced a comprehensive set of data-driven recommendations for the upcoming legislative session that will reduce recidivism, hold offenders accountable and save taxpayers an estimated $542 million by averting almost all of Utah’s projected prison growth over the next two decades.

CCJJ’s proposed recommendations would:

  • Focus prison beds on serious and violent offenders
  • Strengthen probation and parole supervision
  • Improve and expand reentry and treatment services
  • Support local corrections systems
  • Ensure oversight and accountability

The Commission’s full report is available here.

Responding to the charge from Gov. Gary R. Herbert, Sen. Pres. Wayne Niederhauser, House Speaker Becky Lockhart, Utah Supreme Court Chief Justice Matthew Durrant and Attorney General Sean Reyes, CCJJ engaged in a seven-month study of Utah’s corrections and criminal justice systems. The commission analyzed data, evaluated policies and programs used in other states, reviewed research on effective ways reduce recidivism and developed comprehensive recommendations. CCJJ is a diverse group of criminal justice stakeholders including representatives from corrections, the Legislature, the judiciary, the prosecutorial and defense bars, as well as behavioral health and victim advocacy.

While Utah maintains a relatively low imprisonment rate, the state’s prison population has grown 18 percent since 2004, six times faster than the national average. Absent reform, Utah’s prison population is projected to grow an additional 37 percent in the next 20 years at a cost of more than $500 million, according to consultants for the Prison Relocation Commission.

This population growth and resulting taxpayer costs will make it harder to fund already under-resourced crime prevention and response strategies including victim services, drug treatment, mental health services, and a probation and parole system that combines focused supervision with swift and certain responses to violations.

The Commission estimates its recommendations, if adopted by the Legislature and fully implemented, would avert 98 percent of the anticipated prison growth, resulting in cumulative savings of $542 million in prison construction and operating costs.

“It is time we stop cycling inmates in and out of prison,” said Gov. Herbert. “The CCJJ has provided an expert roadmap to improve public safety by keeping violent and career criminals behind bars, putting the appropriate resources into alternatives for nonviolent offenders, and ensuring our citizens get the best possible results for their tax dollars. I look forward to reviewing the recommendations thoroughly.”

Key CCJJ findings include:

  • Utah’s prison population increased 18 percent since 2004 and is projected to grow 37 percent over the next two decades.
  • Prisoners are spending on average 18 percent longer in prison than they did 10 years ago.
  • Nearly half of all offenders leaving prison return within three years.
  • Probation and parole violators make up two-thirds (67 percent) of admissions to prison.
  • 62 percent of offenders sentenced to prison for new crimes were convicted of a nonviolent offense.
  • Last year, more offenders were sentenced to prison for drug possession than any other crime.

“Utah is a leader in using research and data to drive policy. We have worked hard to manage our state efficiently and we must now apply the same approach to our criminal justice system,” said Sen. Pres. Niederhauser. “I commend the CCJJ for their effort to chart a possible course ahead and provide transparent analysis that will be a springboard for legislative discussion and sound policy decisions.”

“The CCJJ has spent more than seven months pouring over research and analyzing our corrections data to develop these recommendations,” said Utah Supreme Court Chief Justice Durrant. “We are pleased to see this hard work result in policies that will move us closer to delivering on our twin goals of crime control and justice.”

“Public safety is always our first priority and this plan more than meets that test,” said Attorney General Reyes. “It will apply proven sentencing and corrections practices to ensure that dangerous offenders are off the street and that we do a better job stopping the revolving door for those whose crimes are driven by addiction to drugs.”

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Members of the CCJJ include: Senate Majority Whip Stuart Adams, Utah Substance Abuse Advisory Council Chair Camille Anthony, Chief Criminal Deputy for the Utah Office of the Attorney General Spencer Austin, State Court Administrator Dan Becker, Juvenile Justice Services Director Susan Burke, Public Education representative Kathleen Christy, Department of Corrections Executive Director Rollin Cook, Utah Board of Juvenile Justice Chair Spencer Larsen, Statewide Association of Prosecutors representative Sim Gill, Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice Executive Director Ron Gordon, House of Representatives Eric Hutchings, Utah Chiefs of Police representative John King, Third District Juvenile Court Judge Elizabeth Lindsley, Fourth District Court Judge Thomas Low, Assistant U.S. Attorney Rob Lund, Board of Pardons and Parole Chair Angela Micklos, Utah State Bar representative Mark Moffat, Citizen representative Stan Parrish, Department of Public Safety Commissioner Keith Squires, Utah Council on Victims of Crime Chair James Swink, Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Director Doug Thomas, Utah Sheriffs’ Association President Jim Tracy, and Sentencing Commission Chair Carlene Walker. Statewide Association of Prosecutors Executive Director Paul Boyden and Utah Substance Abuse Advisory Council Treatment Committee Chair Santiago Cortez were also participants in the process, standing in on occasion.

The CCJJ received technical assistance from the Public Safety Performance Project of The Pew Charitable Trusts and its partner, the Crime and Justice Institute at Community Resources for Justice. This assistance was provided as part of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative of the U.S. Department of Justice, a public-private partnership between Pew and the Justice Department.