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The state's prison population is going down. People caught with drugs are getting lighter sentences. And fewer people are getting locked up for probation violations.
In these ways, Utah's Justice Reinvestment Initiative, known as JRI, is working as planned. But this program, meant to reduce recidivism and the prison population over time without sacrificing public safety, has not made progress in one key area.
The number of people in treatment for substance abuse and mental-health issues has declined, not increased, in the past three fiscal years.
"For those who don't need to be in prison, don't put them in prison, treat them in the community. That only works if we have treatment opportunities in the community," said Ron Gordon, executive director of the Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice.
The data come from the initial report on the program released Thursday.
Utah's prison population has dropped by about 600 people from the 2014 fiscal year to now it stands at about 6,300, which is lower than state leaders projected when creating the initiative.
The prison population was declining before this initiative went into effect and that trend has only accelerated since. The reduction is almost completely due to a drop in the number of inmates booked for theft and possession of a controlled substance.
That's by design. The JRI legislation reduced drug possession charges from felonies to misdemeanors for the first two convictions, significantly reduced enhancements for arrests in drug-free zones, changed sentencing guidelines to emphasize probation over incarceration for lower level offenses and created new "earned time credit" to reduce prison stays for inmates who complete certain programs.
It went into effect in October 2015. Since that time, the number of people imprisoned for violent offenses only declined by about 50 people and those on parole remained steady. But people picked up largely for drug crimes were sent to either jails or put on probation far more often than before.
The drug-free zone enhancement was limited to cases where children were present, and that dropped its use from 15 percent of drug cases to just 1 percent.
The law also created a new inmate screening program at county jails to determine who needs treatment and for what. In the past year, about 25,000 such screenings took place and 53 percent of the offenders were referred to substance abuse treatment, while 41 percent needed mental health treatment.
About one-third of those screened needed both.
But even with the addition of $4.5 million in treatment funds, the number of treatment admissions declined from 9,672 to 9,516 and the overall number of people treated dipped from 11,315 to 10,411. It's possible that some of that decline may be because people are getting longer stays in treatment.
But Gordon said for this initiative to be successful in reducing recidivism, which couldn't be tracked in just one year, it will take a big increase in treatment options.
The state Legislature passed a limited expansion of Medicaid, which would provide help in this area. The federal government is now reviewing the program. Another option, Gordon said, is to go back to the Legislature for more funding.