Criminal Justice Reform in Utah: From Prosecution to Parole
Jason M. Groth, J.
An 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 https://www.aclu.org/report/smart-justice-campaign-polling-americans-attitudes-criminal-justice. 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 https://dsamh.utah.gov/ pdf/Justice_Reinvestment_Report_2014.pdf; H.B. 348, 2015 Leg., 412th Sess. (Utah 2015).
Criminal 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 at https://factfinder.census.gov/ 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 https://justice.utah.gov/JRI/Documents/ Justice%20Reinvestment%20Initiative/JRI%202017%20Annual %20Report.pdf. The growing disparity may seem surprising after a major reform effort like the...