Recent moves could result in reduced sentences for nonviolent drug offenders.
A state commission recently finished its report on reforming the Utah State Prison system, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. The report includes a number of recommendations, which will be voted on by lawmakers in January, for reducing both the prison population and recidivism rates. The recommendations specifically target reforming drug crime sentences and follows similar recommendations on the federal level that could lead to thousands of nonviolent offenders receiving reduced sentences.
Stopping the revolving door
The Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice (CCJJ) sought to end what it described as Utah’s “revolving-door” prison system, whereby nonviolent offenders are released from prison only to return again soon after, often for minor parole violations. The CCJJ, in its report to the governor, recommended focusing instead on treatment programs, such as rehabilitation services. Additionally, the report says people who violate their paroles due to minor violations should be sent to jail instead of prison.
Most significantly, the report recommends reclassifying a number of drug sentences. Simple drug possession, which is currently a third-degree felony, would be reclassified as a class A misdemeanor. Commercial drug offenses, currently classified as second-degree felonies, would likewise be reduced to third-degree felonies.
Utah lawmakers will vote in January on whether to accept the CCJJ’s recommendations. In the meanwhile, the federal U.S. Sentencing Commission has been taking similar moves to reduce the federal prison population. This summer, the commission approved a plan to retroactively reduce the sentences of over 46,000 federal inmates, according to USA Today.
The plan applies to nonviolent drug offenders, who were able to apply for judicial review of their sentences beginning in November although the first early releases would not begin until Nov. 2015. The moves by state and federal officials to reduce their respective prison populations, which has broad bipartisan support, are being driven both by a desire to save taxpayers’ money and an acknowledgement that tough mandatory minimum sentences have failed to reduce drug use.
Charged with a drug crime
Although there are plenty of indicators that the “tough-on-crime” mentality of the past few decades is beginning to waver, people who have been charged with a drug crime should not assume that they will therefore be treated leniently by a court. Tough penalties, including mandatory minimum sentences, are still in place for many drug crimes.
Being charged and convicted of a drug crime can seriously affect a person’s quality of life. Not only do offenders face prison time, but their criminal record could make it difficult to find work and earn a livelihood even after they have served their time. Anybody facing such charges needs to talk with an experienced criminal defense attorney who can provide the advice defendants need when fighting a criminal charge.