Audit Finds Utah Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI) Failed to Reduce Recidivism

Second Chance

Written By ESR News Blog Editor Thomas Ahearn

A “Performance Audit of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative” report to the Utah Legislature released in October 2020 revealed that despite the passage of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI) to reduce the number of people sent to prison and those who re-offend, the audit found rates of “recidivism” – the tendency of convicted criminals to re-offend – among low-level drug offenders increased from 29 percent in 2013 to 37 percent in 2018.

In 2014, the State of Utah launched a major criminal justice reform effort called the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI) that aimed to slow the growing cost of the state correctional system by moving low-level and non-violent offenders out of prison and into community supervision. A portion of the reduced prison costs was to be reinvested in programs and treatments proven to help offenders avoid new crimes.

In 2019, the Office of the Legislative Auditor General was asked to evaluate the impact of JRI on Utah’s county jails specifically, and on the criminal justice system in general. The audit report found that while the number of prisoners, especially those incarcerated for low-level drug offenses, were reduced over the years, the recidivism rates among these low-level drug offenders actually increased from 2013 to 2018.

“Although Utah made changes to its sentencing guidelines, which led to a drop in the state’s prison population, features of JRI designed to provide strong alternatives to incarceration were not implemented,” according to the report. While more people received community supervision rather than prison time, the state failed to “ensure oversight and accountability” and only partially improved drug and mental health treatments.

Auditors suggested that the state’s criminal justice-related agencies, including the Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health, the court system, the Board of Pardons and Parole, and the Department of Public Safety start working together to address these problems and have better data and tracking of offenders in order to try to make any significant impact on recidivism rates. The report is at olag.utah.gov/olag-doc/2020-08_RPT.pdf.

“Ban the Box” laws that prohibit employers from asking job applicants about their criminal records and second chance programs that help to give ex-offenders with a prior criminal record a chance to find work after leaving prison are spreading in 2020, according to the “ESR Top Ten Background Check Trends” for 2020 compiled by leading global background check provider Employment Screening Resources® (ESR).

Founded in 1997, Employment Screening Resources® (ESR) offers a complimentary white paper titled “Ten Critical Steps for Ex-Offenders to Get Back into the Workforce,” an Ex-Offender Resources Page, and a Ban the Box Resource Page that contains an interactive map with the latest Ban the Box laws that delay questions about criminal records until later in the hiring process. To learn more about ESR, visit www.esrcheck.com.

NOTE: Employment Screening Resources® (ESR) does not provide or offer legal services or legal advice of any kind or nature. Any information on this website is for educational purposes only.

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