Drug crimes would drop under new criminal justice system reform bill in the Utah legislature

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SALT LAKE CITY -- A massive criminal justice system bill has been unveiled on Utah's Capitol Hill, proposing some sweeping changes to the criminal justice system.

House Bill 348, sponsored by Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns, would overhaul large portions of the justice system. Most notably, it would drop simple drug possession from a felony to a misdemeanor (except on repeat convictions); and provide more funding for mental health and substance abuse treatment.

From the bill:

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Hutchings and Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, unveiled the bill at a news conference on Wednesday. Rep. Hutchings called his bill an "epic shift" in how Utah deals with criminals, pushing more treatment for drug offenders.

"Very clearly, treatment is a better process than incarceration," Sen. Adams told reporters.

FOX 13 first reported last year on the idea being considered that would drop Utah's drug possession law from a third-degree felony to a class A misdemeanor. Rep. Hutchings' bill does just that, but also reduces other crimes (while enhancing the penalties in others, such as weapons violations). Drug distribution would be dropped, although he insisted drug trafficking would still be harshly punished.

A large portion of the bill is dedicated to reducing recidivism in Utah's prisons, even as lawmakers consider relocating the Utah State Prison from its site at Point of the Mountain. In interviews with FOX 13, corrections officials and Rep. Hutchings have acknowledged the reform proposal is closely tied with prison relocation.

The bill had the support of Rollin Cook, the director of Utah's Dept. of Corrections.

"For too long, we've been the hand that holds them down," he said Wednesday. "We need to be the hand that helps them up."

Conservative lawmakers have started to embrace the concepts as they struggle with criminal justice system funding and prison relocation. Activist groups have praised the concepts in the bill, even as some have declared it "a start." Lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union stood with lawmakers in support of the bill.

One thing has been left off of HB348. Ron Gordon, the executive director of the Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice, told FOX 13 that a plan to drop many traffic offenses from misdemeanors to infractions is not included. It may be included in a new bill or a substitute bill.

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    Why would any intelligent person want to mess up a perfectly good brain with drugs. Illegal drug usage is one of the ways to distinguish between successful people and losers.

    • Ivan

      What about every successful musician? I am sure there are plenty of very rich people working on wall street that use cocaine. If you include alcohol then almost every president would also be a drug user.

  • Ivan

    This bill is a very good idea. If one of your family members made some bad choices would you want them to be sent to prison for years over a non violent drug offense or a new chance at life with a treatment program?

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