Senator Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, member and former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, spoke at an event at Pew Charitable Trusts alongside Utah leaders on the topic of criminal justice reform.

Senator Hatch’s remarks focused on the need for a comprehensive criminal justice reform bill that considers a variety of inputs and focuses on evidence-based practices. He also described three problems that federal criminal justice reform must address. He said, 

First is the problem of over criminalization.  Not every bad act needs to be a crime.  In many cases, civil penalties suffice.  Fines or other sanctions can incentivize good behavior without expanding government’s authority to brand people as criminals.

Second is the problem of over federalization.  Not every crime needs to be a federal crime.  In many, perhaps most, situations, states have the necessary authority to bring bad actors to justice.  There is no need to create duplicate layers of law enforcement for every offense.

Third is the problem of inadequate criminal intent requirements.  One of the foundational features of our criminal law is the idea that a criminal offense requires the confluence of a wrongful act and a guilty mind.  This requirement protects individuals who unwittingly or accidentally break some law—a law they may not even know exists—from being swept up in the criminal justice system.  Many federal criminal statutes lack any sort of criminal intent requirement.  This is a problem that needs to be addressed, and I am working on legislation to do just that.

Senator Hatch spoke on criminal justice reform on the Senate Floor last week, focusing on the need to ensure robust criminal intent requirements in federal criminal laws. You can find a video of that speech here.

Senator Hatch was joined at Pew by Governor Gary Herbert; Senator Mike Lee; Ron Gordon, the executive director of Utah’s Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice; Rollin Cook, executive director of Utah’s Department of Corrections; and Representative Eric Hutchings, of the Utah House of Representatives.

Hatch’s full remarks, as prepared for delivery, are below:

You know, I may be a bit biased, but I think Utah’s a great state.  It’s an innovative state, with smart, motivated people who are committed to improving Utah and to making it an even better place to live.  Utahns like to think outside the box and approach challenges from new directions.  It’s part of our DNA, a legacy of our pioneer forebears, who used their wits and work ethic to make the desert bloom.

Utah’s criminal justice reforms take an innovative approach to the problems of prison overpopulation and recidivism.  The goal of the reforms is to focus prison resources on those individuals who are the greatest dangers to our communities.  The reforms improve mental health and other treatment services, give probation and parole officers greater flexibility in supervising releasees, and strengthen programs to help offenders successfully reenter society

 Congress could learn a lot from Utah’s efforts.  Congress could learn a lot from Utah generally.  I’d like to highlight two lessons for you

First, the bill Governor Herbert signed is a comprehensive bill.  It is not a sentencing bill.  It is not a prison bill.  It is a comprehensive bill that addresses a number of criminal justice issues.  Sometimes in Congress we can get too focused on individual priorities and miss the opportunity for broader collaboration.  My colleagues and I should consider a variety of inputs as we tackle criminal justice reform.  The issue is simply too important to spend our time worrying about turf.

Second, Utah’s reforms incorporate evidence-based practices that have been shown to reduce recidivism and help offenders reenter the community.  These reforms rely on data, not assumptions.  They take account of real-world effects.  Congress should keep in mind how the various proposals it’s considering will play out in real life.  We should base our efforts on evidence, not grand theories of social justice.

Of course, we all know that the federal government is different from state governments.  The federal government does not have a general police power.  Federal crimes are limited to the offenses Congress creates.  In addition, many crimes are better prosecuted at the state level.  State officials have a better sense of community needs and priorities.

In my remaining time, I would like to briefly mention three problems that federal criminal justice reform must address.

First is the problem of over criminalization.  Not every bad act needs to be a crime.  In many cases, civil penalties suffice.  Fines or other sanctions can incentivize good behavior without expanding government’s authority to brand people as criminals.

Second is the problem of over federalization.  Not every crime needs to be a federal crime.  In many, perhaps most, situations, states have the necessary authority to bring bad actors to justice.  There is no need to create duplicate layers of law enforcement for every offense.

Third is the problem of inadequate criminal intent requirements.  One of the foundational features of our criminal law is the idea that a criminal offense requires the confluence of a wrongful act and a guilty mind.  This requirement protects individuals who unwittingly or accidentally break some law—a law they may not even know exists—from being swept up in the criminal justice system.  Many federal criminal statutes lack any sort of criminal intent requirement.  This is a problem that needs to be addressed, and I am working on legislation to do just that.

Thank you, again, for inviting me to be here today.  I look forward to helping criminal justice reform move through Congress.