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The GOP's Red Dawn
Prison Reform Comes to Utah

Prison reform continues to gain momentum, this time in Utah. Last year Republican Gov. Gary Herbert asked the Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice to compile a list of recommendations to reform the state’s criminal justice system. Here’s some of the bigger ideas the report contained, according to St. George News:

 One of the most significant changes in the proposal would be reducing simple drug possession from a third-degree felony, to a class A misdemeanor. The proposal also includes reclassifying drug dealing to a third-degree felony, as well as reworking drug-free zones to focus more on drug offenses where children are more tangentially tied to the drug exposure.

Under the initiative, the restructuring of sentencing guidelines for certain lower-level crimes would mean nonviolent offenders would see two to four months off their sentences where guideline recommendations is not prison, while some class B misdemeanors would be reclassified as class C misdemeanors, and more efforts would be focused on treatment and community-based resources.

Now the Utah Department of Corrections has released a number of budget items tied to these proposed reforms, and Fox 13 Salt Lake City reports that leaders of the reform movement intend to start putting up bills that would make some of these ideas into law. Prison reform is long past due, and is an excellent occasion for both parties to come together to fix the worst excesses of the current regime. We are glad to see it gain traction in Utah.

It should be noted, however, that even though the idea in theory has bipartisan appeal, it is Republicans who have often been leading the charge—and conservative evangelicals who have in part helped to fund reform efforts. This is the kind of new thinking we’d like to see the GOP do more of: not just seeking tax cuts and austerity agendas, but really thinking through smart structural reforms for failing institutions.

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  • Corlyss

    “We are glad to see it gain traction in Utah.”

    We’re just getting ready for life next door to Colorado.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    At least half the people in prison are there for drug related offenses. If there weren’t such things as victimless crimes, drugs, gambling, prostitution, most criminal organizations would implode from a lack of income, and our prisons could be used for the murderers, rapists, and thieves as they should.

    • matt

      Nope, that is just in FEDERAL prisons (~50% (96,544) out of total less than 200,000).

      Most prisoners in US are in state or local prisons 1,311,136 (58% state), 748,728 (33% local), 206,968 (9% fed). [2010]

      and in the state prisons:
      Violent Crimes 53.8%
      Property 18.8%
      drug 16% (only 3.7% is possession)

      Making a more accurate statement: about 9.5% of “the people in prison are there for drug related offenses”

      (averaging ~3000/state of mostly traffickers and pushers)

      page 15:

  • gabrielsyme

    Sending fewer people to jail in the first place, or sentencing them for shorter periods is criminal justice reform, not prison reform. It may have some incidental advantages for prisons (less overcrowding mainly), but doesn’t address the truly central issues of prison gangs, prison sexual assualt, abuse of power by correctional officers, failure to effectively rehabilitate prisoners, and in-prison radicalization. The report does, apparently, make some useful recommendations for increased drug-treatment and mental-health treatment for prisoners that could help the rehabilitation problem, but overall, the report is a disappointment in terms of prison reform.

    • FriendlyGoat

      Real prison reform can consist of not much more than reducing the emphasis on seniority systems for staff members, docking the remuneration of entire prison staffs for the legal and settlement costs of inmate lawsuits, and allowing younger guards to bypass the chain of command straight to the governor on any matters of ethics. The “kingdoms” in the middle management are always most of the problem.

  • FriendlyGoat

    1) Bravo to TAI, in its last sentence, for asking Republicans to do something other than seek tax cuts and austerity agendas. When a conservative/libertarian place notices that conservatives have not really been doing ANYTHING else for decades, we are seeing progress.

    2) We must remember that law-and-order conservatives are those who led the trend to “lock ’em up” over the last 40 years, AND not really try with sincerity to rehabilitate them. It’s true that some evangelicals now realize that some of the sentences have become excessive and the draconian environment of prison completely disproportionate to the relatively-minor sins which were committed by many of the offenders. The Christians are to be commended for anything they do to make both sentencing and the prison experience sensible.
    We also must also remember that part of the current prison and sentencing review by conservatives is simply rooted in the realization that incarceration costs more than they want to spend. Whichever is the strongest force in Utah, it would be nice to see a red state LEAD in substantive improvements. I wish them well.

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