With a growing incarcerated population, Utah, like many other states, has tried to figure out a better, more cost effective way to treat individuals convicted of crimes. Many of these individuals are not a high public safety risk, yet they still need to serve some sort of sentence for their crime.
Community supervision programs, like probation and parole, offer a good alternative to incarceration for this demographic of people. If these programs aren’t allowing individuals to succeed, then participants will ultimately end up back in jail, which is harmful for defendants and taxpayers alike.
If an individual is late to a meeting with their probation or parole officer, or they miss their curfew — even for a legitimate reason — or if they fail a drug test, they can be in serious trouble. These are called technical violations, and they can result in a revocation of the program participation for the individual, and also result in jail time. Jail is oftentimes an overly punitive response to such a small violation, but it’s still relied upon as an alternative punishment.
Representative Keven Stratton sponsored House Bill 290 to help ensure this doesn’t happen. The legislation directs the Sentencing Commission to develop guidelines and recommendations on “appropriate, evidence-based probation and parole supervision policies and services that assist individuals in successfully completing” the program.
It removes language about traditional “sanctions” for those who violate the terms of probation and parole and replaces this word with “graduated and evidence-based processes.” This is to ensure that the state isn’t mindlessly throwing a person in jail for a technical violation but responding appropriately to each violation as it occurs.
Technical violations should not result in jail, and this bill takes the first step to help make sure that doesn’t happen. The Sentencing Commission has already done a lot of great work on Utah’s probation and parole system, and this is yet another directive to help move the needle in the right direction.
The bill also adds a seat to the Sentencing Commission for a representative from a civil liberties organization. Groups like Libertas and the ACLU consistently tackle legislation that impacts sentencing, and sometimes, it clashes or overlaps with the work that is already being done by the Commission. Adding this seat will help alleviate that problem to ensure that groups like ours are actively engaged in legislation formulation from the side of the Commission. Additionally, there are spots for victims of crime and for law enforcement and defense groups, but there was no voice for civil liberties groups until now.