Commission recommends reduced charges for some drug crimes

On behalf of Greg Smith

Utah lawmakers will have opportunity to act on proposals in January

The Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice (CCJJ) has delivered its report to Utah Gov. Gary Herbert on how to reduce recidivism and the state prison population, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. Among the key recommendations is one to reduce the charges for some nonviolent drug crimes, such as drug possession, which the report’s authors say currently accounts for a disproportionate amount of the total prison population.

Reducing recidivism

Although Utah’s prison population is currently below the national average, it is growing rapidly-18 percent since 2004, or six times faster than the U.S. average. The CCJJ warned that unless changes were implemented quickly, the prison population would swell by 37 percent in 20 years, leading not only to prison overcrowding, but to wasted taxpayer dollars.

The CCJJ noted that compared to 10 years ago, prison sentences today are 18 percent longer. Furthermore, recidivism rates are quite high, with almost half of prisoners returning to prison within three years of release, with parole and probation violators accounting for over two-thirds of all prisoner admissions, according to St. George News.

Drug crime reclassification

The main driver of the growing prison population, however, is nonviolent crime, which accounts for 62 percent of all convictions that result in a prison sentence. Specifically, drug possession was cited by the CCJJ as the number one offense leading to prison.

As a result, the CCJJ recommends reclassifying third-degree felony simple drug possession as a class A misdemeanor and reducing commercial drug offenses to third-degree felonies from the second-degree felonies they are currently classified as. The reclassifications would, the authors say, help keep prisons from becoming a revolving door for nonviolent offenders. Gov. Herbert has yet to say whether he will support the reforms, but state lawmakers will have an opportunity to act on the recommendations in January when the next legislative session begins.

Criminal drug charges

While the above recommendations could bring some welcome relief to future or even current alleged drug offenders, it is important to realize that for the time being they are just recommendations. Regardless of how legislators decide to react to the commission’s report, ordinary people charged with drug crimes still face the prospect of serious damage not only to their freedom, but to their livelihoods and reputations as well.

Defending against a drug charge or seeking a reduced sentence requires the sort of legal skill that only comes from years of experience. Anybody charged with a drug crime should contact a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible to discuss their case. An experienced attorney can help clients defend themselves against a criminal charge and help limit the damage that such a charge can cause in an accused person’s life.

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