The Justice Reinvestment Initiative in Utah, which is also known as HB 348, was approved by legislators a couple years ago. It brings sweeping reforms to drug possession crimes, making all first- and second-degree drug possession felonies misdemeanors and over 240 misdemeanors infractions.
In addition, drug-free school zones are now 100 feet from a school or church instead of 1,000 feet.
Mental health and substance abuse treatment options are enhanced with the law’s effective date of Oct. 1. Further, mandatory sentencing is not required any longer for drug possession, but only for the distribution or sale of drugs. It’s estimated that taxpayers will save $500 million in new prison beds over the next 20 years with the implementation of this law. Right now, the state currently houses almost 6,700 prisoners.
What about those inmates currently serving time for drug possession charges?
The Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice’s executive director said that the “concepts are not entirely new….Having the Board of Pardons and Parole, for example, review progress of a particular inmate and decide whether that person can be safely released earlier….that’s not brand new. That’s something that takes place right now.” The state’s parole board chair basically said the same thing. She noted that prisoner’s sentences have been cut since 2009 for inmates who are rewarded for good behavior.
These changes mean that those charged with non-violent drug possession now have options in many cases. These might include drug treatment with the goal of lowering recidivism rates.
An attorney can provide those charged with non-violent drug possession charges legal options. In many cases, these may include rehabilitation or mental health services.
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