Young Lawyers Division, 0219 UTBJ, Vol. 32, No. 1. 62

Author:Jason M. Groth, J.
Position:Vol. 32 1 Pg. 62

Young Lawyers Division

No. Vol. 32 No. 1 Pg. 62

Utah Bar Journal

February, 2019




Justice Reform in Utah: From Prosecution to



M. Groth, J.


overwhelming majority of Americans say that we need to fix

the criminal justice system. Benenson Strategy Group,

ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice National Survey at 3

(2017), available at

Criminal justice reform took a big step forward in Utah when

the legislature passed the Justice Reinvestment Initiative

(JRI) in 2015. The JRI is rooted in the Utah Committee on

Criminal and Juvenile Justice’s eighteen policy

recommendations, which led to legislation that, among other

things, reduced penalties for drug crimes, improved criminal

justice data-tracking, and addressed reentry needs for

individuals leaving incarceration. Utah Comm’n on

Criminal and Juvenile Justice, Justice Reinvestment Rep.

(2014) available at

pdf/Justice_Reinvestment_Report_2014.pdf; H.B. 348, 2015

Leg., 412th Sess. (Utah 2015).


justice reform is a process, and it must be thoughtfully

reviewed as we see it play out in both in our community and

in the data. The JRI has been successful in reducing the

prison population. It has failed, however, to address racial

disparities in the prison population that were present before

the JRI was enacted. In fact, racial disparities are now

worse for new entrants into the prison system. Utah’s

racial and ethnic minorities account for only 20% of

Utah’s population. ACS Demographic and Housing

Estimates, AMERICAN FACTFINDER (2016), available


bkmk/table/1.0/en/ACS/16_5YR/DP05/0400000US49. In contrast,

racial and ethnic minorities with new prison sentences

increased from 34% in 2015 to 43% in 2017. Utah Comm’n

on Criminal and Juvenile Justice, Utah Justice Reinvestment

Initiative 2017 Ann. Rep. at 17 (2017), available at


%20Report.pdf. The growing disparity may seem surprising

after a major reform effort like the JRI, but it makes sense

when we consider that not one of the JRI’s eighteen

policy considerations acknowledged that racial disparities

exist in the system. We must account for these disparities as

we look at other criminal justice areas that need reform and

accept that reform efforts are a process rather than an easy,


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