Governor Gary Herbert announces workgroup to improve probation, parole

Gov. Gary Herbert recently announced a task force focused on community supervision, an inter-branch workgroup charged with undertaking a focused, evidence-based review of Utah’s probation and parole system. The workgroup aims to increase successful outcomes, reduce revocations due to technical violations, and support public safety by redirecting supervision resources toward individuals who pose the highest risk and focusing prison admissions on serious offenders.

“Over the last several years, we have demonstrated an unwavering commitment to improving our sentencing and corrections policies for both the adult and juvenile justice systems,” Governor Herbert stated, “And through this process of ongoing evaluation and analysis, we must now shift our attention to our growing community supervision population which requires critical examination and adjustment.” 

“This is an important undertaking that will continue to build on our efforts to chart a better path forward for Utah,” said Sen. J Stuart Adams, President of the Utah Senate. “We will review data and engage with diverse stakeholders across the state to ensure we have a system that protects public safety and produces better outcomes for our families and communities.” 

Comprised of members of the Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice, the task force will meet four times through the end of the year and will develop a set of policy recommendations to share with the Legislature in 2020. 

“Probation and parole are meant to hold individuals accountable and help them successfully exit the criminal justice system, not become a revolving door back to prison,” said Mike Haddon, Department of Corrections Executive Director, “The workgroup is a coordinated effort to ensure that we are doing what research and data recommend will work to strengthen our system and protect public safety, such as ensuring our officers are not overloaded so that they can focus their attention on those who have the highest risk.”

“Addressing the needs of the community supervision population is high stakes, and we must work to create a system that will promote success and prepare an individual to reintegrate into their respective communities,” Kim Cordova, Council on Criminal and Juvenile Justice executive director said. “That means that we have programs in place throughout the state to help people change their behavior.”

In 2018, 82 percent of prison admissions in Utah were due to violations of people on probation or parole. This is an increase from 2012 where supervision violations made up two-thirds of all Utah prison admissions, often for technical violations or a failure to comply with supervision rules, rather than a new crime. What was intended to be an alternative to incarceration, probation and parole have become its leading drivers. 

Further, Utah’s Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health estimated in 2013 that individuals involved with the justice system represented more than 70 percent of all people in need of substance abuse and mental health treatment in the state. Since last year, access to substance use disorder treatment grew for the third year in a row to an all-time high. Still, the unmet behavioral health treatment needs for Utah residents per county ranged from 58 to 95 percent, underscoring the need to further expand community-based treatment options.

“I am looking forward to working on this endeavor to create a system that champions people’s successes,” said Rep. Brad Wilson, Speaker of the Utah House of Representatives, “Creating meaningful change won’t happen overnight, but we are committed to improving public safety and are in this for the long haul.”

In 2015, Governor Herbert signed into law sentencing and corrections legislation that used research-driven policies to control corrections spending, hold individuals accountable, and improve public safety. The state’s Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice, an interbranch group of state and local officials, developed House Bill 348, with technical assistance from The Pew Charitable Trusts as part of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, a public-private partnership. In 2017, Governor Herbert signed House Bill 239, a comprehensive set of research-based reforms designed to improve the state’s juvenile justice system. Now, Utah continues to build on that work and joins Arizona to undertake a focused, evidence-based review of their community supervision systems.

The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Crime and Justice Institute at Community Resources for Justice are providing technical assistance to the workgroup at the invitation of Utah leadership.