Press Releases

92% of Utah Voters Support Proposed Bail Reform

Today the Libertas Institute and Justice Action Network released a new poll that shows the overwhelming majority of Utah voters support pretrial reform measures, such as giving judges options other than cash bail for defendants and utilizing data-driven risk assessments in pretrial procedures.

The poll was conducted and released leading up to the start of the 2018 legislative session, which began Monday, January 22. The Utah court system is working to implement a risk assessment tool for judges to use in pretrial hearings, and this tool was the subject of interim hearings ahead of session.

“Utah’s voters have given their legislators a clear mandate,” said Holly Harris, Executive Director of the Justice Action Network. “Across the state, Republicans and Democrats alike are unflinching in their support for the use of risk assessment tool for informed pretrial decisions, and they prefer this method over the current cash-based model that keeps many people accused of low-level offenses behind bars, while wealthier individuals accused of violent and sexual offenses go free. We need a system in which judges are empowered to make pretrial detention decisions that are in the best interest of safer communities, and legislators should take note that the vast majority of voters agree.”

“The research on this issue is very straightforward, and the voters of Utah support this common sense approach: risk to public safety, not the size of one’s bank account, should be the determining factor in whether someone should be released before trial,” said Connor Boyack, President of the Libertas Institute. “When 92% of voters agree on an issue – which almost never happens – wise policymakers shouldn’t stand in the way.”

The poll’s top findings include:

  • 92% of Utah voters support legislation that would allow for risk assessments in pretrial procedures;
  • 86% of Utah voters believe that judges should have options for supervising people before trial instead of relying on cash bail; and
  • 74% of Utah voters do not believe that people accused of non-violent offenses, who are low-risk and pose no threat to society, should be jailed before their trial because they cannot afford bail.

“I spent my career putting dangerous criminal behind bars, and I know what works in our justice system, and what needs improvement. Our state’s pretrial policies are a glaring example of what is broken,” said Brett Tolman, former U.S. Attorney for Utah. “Infusing risk information into the pre-trial system is a smarter approach that strengthens public safety.”

In 2015, the Utah Judicial Council’s study committee on Pretrial Release and Supervision made recommendations for a new risk assessment tool – the Public Safety Assessment (PSA) – to be used in pretrial procedures. Certain jurisdictions in Utah and across the country that have already adopted similar tools have experienced declines in both crime and failure to appear rates. In 2017, the Utah Legislative Auditor General issued a report to the Legislature that found jurisdictions that have not been using a PSA tool “lack basic information when making pretrial release decisions,” which “negatively impacts public safety, taxpayer resources, and defendant outcomes.” Now, the Utah court system seeks to take the tool statewide.

Polling was conducted by Dan Jones & Associates, a division of Cicero Group, between December 22, 2017 to January 3, 2018, surveying 606 registered voters in Utah. Respondents were reached via live phone interviews, and quotas were managed across survey demographics to ensure a representative sample.