Perhaps you’ve noticed that Rep. Eric Hutchings has been walking around Capitol hallways with a big smile on his face.
Legislators – even the conservatives – have bought in to his massive state and local correctional reforms.
But you know who also is buying Hutchings’ reforms?
A new UtahPolicy poll by Dan Jones & Associates finds that 74 percent of registered voters agree with the major reforms: Get mentally ill, drug and alcohol addicted criminals into rehabilitation programs, and sentence them to shorter times in prison or secure rehab facilities.
That’s a big number, especially for Utah where the get-tough-on-criminals has long been the Legislature’s main mantra.
Utahns favor the reform changes even though they will cost more in the short run, as state and local corrections officials transition to more inmate treatment.
It will cost the state an extra $16 million next fiscal year.
Admittedly, a big reason is money. In time, the state can save hundreds of millions of dollars through keeping fewer people locked up longer.
But there is also a feeling of humanitarianism in the Legislature this year, as several lawmakers have talked about their time as lay LDS missionaries in jails and prison facilities, and how the inmates need held much more than punishment.
Here are some of the interesting numbers in the new poll.
— 70 percent of those who said they are “very active” in their LDS faith favor more treatment, less prison time.
— 63 percent of those who said they are “very conservative” politically favor the reforms.
— 79 percent of those who said they are politically “moderates” favor the changes.
— 68 percent of those who defined themselves as Republicans favor the reforms.
— And 71 percent of those who said they are political independents want more inmate treatment, less punishment.
The Democrats and “very liberal” politically are just over the hill on the idea: 96 percent of Democrats approve of the changes, 98 percent of the “very liberal.”
It will take time, warns Hutchings, R-Kearns, and state correction officials, before some good results are seen under the main reform bill, HB348.
HB348 is up for debate in the Senate on Wednesday. It passed the House72-3 and Gov. Gary Herbert supports it.