Utahns with low-level drug convictions are back in court facing fresh charges more often following the Beehive State’s Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI).
A recently published legislative audit on the JRI said, “Utah has not achieved its goal to reduce recidivism.” Recidivism is defined as the tendency of a convicted criminal to reoffend. “Offender treatment services are not always available when needed. However, demand for treatment services is difficult to identify because all offenders needing treatment are not tracked. In addition, the effectiveness of current treatment is not monitored.”
Utah’s criminal justice reform had two main goals: reduce the number of people sent to prison and help ensure they don’t re-offend. Recidivism rates among those low-level drug offenders has actually increased since the JRI began in 2014, according to the review. Auditors found that in 2013, the recidivism rate for low-level drug offenders was 29 percent. In 2018, that number jumped to 37 percent.
The audit attributes the trend, in part, to overworked probation officers and a lack of adequate and available treatment programs.
“When lawmakers lowered the penalties for certain drug crimes, it led to more people receiving community supervision rather than prison time,” reported Jessica Miller in The Salt Lake City Tribune. “But auditors say the state didn’t make that supervision count, failing to put in place procedures to ‘ensure oversight and accountability’ and only partially improved drug and mental health treatment.” Because of this, auditors say the number of “chronic drug offenders” in Utah has nearly tripled since the reform was launched.
The data suggest that “Utah’s criminal justice system has not yet developed an effective response for offenders who suffer from serious drug addiction,” per the audit. “The criminal justice system works well for the majority of drug offenders who are arrested once or twice and never reoffend.”
In conclusion, it works well for people who misuse drugs and alcohol but are able to stop using without treatment while offenders with severe substance use disorder (SUD) are not efficiently connected with appropriate treatment programs.
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