Most Americans agree that it’s time to fix our nation’s broken criminal justice system. But if overwhelming support isn’t enough to get lawmakers around the country to take action, here’s something that might: criminal justice reform is working.
Just two short years after Utah implemented a ground-breaking program to keep offenders from going back to prison and help them reintegrate into society, the positive results are showing. Average prison populations are decreasing and the percentage of offenders being incarcerated for drug possession has dropped.
In 2014, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert called for a plan to reduce recidivism and control the growth of the state’s prison population. After all, the state had gained a bad reputation for unjust and harsh sentences. A review showed Utah’s inmate population had increased by 18 percent between 2004 and 2014.
This led to the launch of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, a program designed to reduce recidivism while teaching former offenders to live as law-abiding members of society. The initiative reduced sentences for certain drug crimes and diverted offenders to community based treatment, allowing them to stay connected to their families and support networks. They also improved substance abuse programs and mental health treatment options.
A recently released report is showing that these reforms are getting results. The report, which is based on data from the JRI’s first 21 months of operation, says Utah’s average prison population in 2014 was 7,026. Today, that number is down to 6,276 – 18 percent less than what was projected had reforms not been introduced. Prisoners convicted of drug possession only represent 2 percent of the population now, down from 5 percent.
Millennials make up nearly 40 percent of the federal inmate population and half of state prison populations. It is a problem that disproportionately impacts young people and it is up to our generation to fight for change.
America should be a shining example of what real justice looks like. Do your part by contacting your elected officials and demanding a change today!