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JRI Year: 2015



Although Utah maintained an imprisonment rate below the national average for two decades while crime rates declined, the state had a high recidivism rate. In 2013, almost half of people (46 percent) released from state prisons returned within three years.1 To address this, then-Governor Gary Herbert tasked the Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice (CCJJ) with developing data-driven recommendations to “reduce recidivism and safely control the growth in the state prison population.”2

Beginning in April 2014, the CCJJ, with technical assistance from The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Crime and Justice Institute, analyzed the state’s criminal justice system, including an in-depth review of sentencing and corrections data.


Based on its findings, the CCJJ submitted policy recommendations to reduce recidivism, hold people accountable, and control the state’s prison population growth. These recommendations were intended to reduce the use of prison for certain low-level drug offenses and reclassify the first two drug possession convictions as misdemeanors, revise how the criminal history score used in sentencing decisions was calculated, cap revocation time for technical violations of probation and parole, and strengthen community supervision through the implementation of a graduated responses matrix.3 The CCJJ also recommended increased community treatment availability for substance use and mental health, as well as improved reentry planning for individuals at high risk of reoffending.4 Legislation advancing these recommendations—House Bill 348 (HB 348)—passed with overwhelming bipartisan support and was signed into law in March 2015 by then-Governor Herbert. Utah implemented multiple policy and practice changes to realize the goals of the bill.


Utah’s policy changes resulted in a 21 percent decrease in the prison population, with the percentage of prison beds occupied by people convicted of violent offenses increasing from 50 percent in 2014 to 72 percent in 2021.5

For more information, see Justice Reinvestment Initiative: Utah.

JRI-Driven Policies and Practices

  • Reclassify/redefine drug offenses
  • Revise sentencing enhancements
  • Establish sentencing commission/revise sentencing guidelines
  • Revise drug-free school zone
  • Revise parole hearings/decision/eligibility standards
  • Expand good-time/earned-time prison credits/reentry leave
  • Authorize performance incentive funding
  • Authorize administrative jail sanctions
  • Authorize/develop/modify graduated responses or matrices for violations
  • Cap revocation time
  • Establish/expand earned discharge (probation/parole)
  • Improve behavioral health interventions
  • Reform/establish specialty courts or diversion programs
  • Require/improve risk-needs assessment
  • Require evidence-based practices
  • Require data collection/performance measures
  • Establish/extend oversight council

1 The Crime and Justice Institute, 2023, Justice Reinvestment Initiative: Prioritizing Prison Resources Where They Matter Most, Retrieved June 22, 2023 from

2 Ibid., 2.

3 Ibid.,14, 15, 16, 17.

4 Ibid., 19, 20.

5 Lisa Margulies, 2023, Justice Reinvestment Initiative: Prioritizing Prison Resources Where They Matter Most, Boston, MA: Crime and Justice Institute, expected June 2023.

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