Earlier this year, Gov. Gary Herbert signed historic criminal justice reforms into law by signing H.B. 348. The bill was the result of recommendations from the Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice (CCJJ) and was widely hailed. By doing so, Utah joined a host of other states seeking to address ballooning corrections systems. The evidence-based policies implemented by states have reduced costs, crime and recidivism. Fortunately, members of the House have noted the successes of our innovative states and are working to apply the same principals on a federal level.
Significant changes are certainly needed. Since 1980, our federal prison population has grown from roughly 24,000 to more than 215,000 while annual prison spending grew nearly 600 percent. During this same period, the number of federal crimes in statute, most of which aren't well publicized, increased by more than 1,000. Consequently, federal prison population growth has outpaced the states, and hard-working American taxpayers are left to finance it.
Behind these statistics are people. And while many of them should be kept off our streets and out of our communities, many others are first-time, nonviolent offenders whose sentences do more harm than their underlying crimes. At some point, overpopulating our prisons actually fosters more crime. For many low-risk, first-time offenders, a mandatory prison sentence can increase the likelihood of future crime and recidivism. It can unnecessarily tear a family apart, foreclose future job opportunities and perpetuate poverty. As a mother, I cannot stand by idly and watch this happen.