Thursday, July 17, 2014

Utah's Corrections Conundrum: Finding Better Solutions

During interim session in our Judiciary Committee, we heard a compelling presentation from the Pew Charitable Trusts regarding the state of Utah's corrections system.  We discussed how non-violent offenders (typically drug or property crimes) were receiving ever longer prison sentences for their crimes.

While on the face of it, it seems to make sense that people should pay for their crimes. Yet, at the same time, the corrections system itself is having the effect of making personal reform harder on those that are incarcerated.  Prison may lock up drug users, but it is poorly equipped today to break their addictions.

Interestingly, when door knocking my district while campaigning for office, I have often stumbled open felons who have shared their experience with me.  When I asked them what could be done to improve the system and promote better outcomes, almost unanimously, these folks have expressed the need for more drug treatment within our prisons.  I agreed with that sentiment then and it appears today we now have the data to support shifting our policy towards better treatment.

Here is the presentation we received during our committee:

As you can see, there are a lot of charts and information to digest. The bottom line is that our prison population is increasing at a rate faster than population growth.  The data suggests that our current policies are driving this increase.

Incarceration is just one part of our corrections system.  Yet, it seems to be the tool that is most readily relied upon.  I believe that there could be better results if we improved our efforts to curb addiction and address mental health issues among our inmate population.  I look forward to discussing this issue more with our Judiciary Committee as we move along toward the next General Session.