Justice and Due Process

Utah’s Recidivism Rate Is Too High to Be Ignored

Valkyrie Armstrong is a Policy Research intern with the Libertas Institute. She is currently working on a Bachelor’s degree in government at Patrick Henry College.

The route to a freer and safer society necessarily includes providing everyone with the opportunities to achieve their fullest potential — even people who have committed crimes.

Unfortunately, Utah faces concerningly high recidivism rates, as 46 percent of Utah’s inmates return to prison within three years. Many former inmates become overwhelmed with the increased difficulty of obtaining a job, and poverty drives them back to their past corrupt lifestyle choices, posing a threat to both themselves and society.

Formerly incarcerated individuals often struggle to overcome their financial burdens, which leads them to repeat crimes. But the Utah County Sheriff’s Office is working to combat this issue and create more opportunities for inmates through the Jail Industries (JI) program.

Established in 1999, the JI program allows inmates to earn money by working in the community during their time in jail. Almost 10,000 inmates have participated in the program so far. And this year, the program has expanded to provide inmates with drug and alcohol counseling, therapy, housing, and transportation assistance. This gives inmates the opportunity to obtain a job after they finish their sentence and pushes them to spend their time in jail productively, developing efficient habits and improving themselves.

This program is beneficial for both the inmates and the rest of society. Through the JI program, Utahns can feel safer knowing that offenders are less likely to re-offend, and inmates benefit from gaining opportunities and hope for a better, more productive future.

A Prison Policy Initiative study from 2020 revealed that the US locks up more people per capita than any other nation. Approximately 2.3 million people are being detained in the American criminal justice system right now. This number is too large, and Utah’s recidivism rates are too high, to ignore the impact these inmates can have on American society.

This is not to say that serving jail time should be easy or fun. But for the sake of our communities, jail cannot be a place that strips its inhabitants of all opportunity and hope — it needs to be a place of reflection, growth, and transformation. 

Libertas Institute commends Utah County for taking the essential steps towards reform and renewal through the JI program. We hope to see all counties implement initiatives like this.