Utah pushes reform to parole, probation

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An effort to reduce the number of people on probation and parole is gaining widespread popularity in Utah.

State officials say the steadily growing ranks of people under state supervision stretches agency resources and saddles offenders with burdensome restrictions that, when violated, become pipelines to prison.

“We have a problem of mass incarceration,” said Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill, a Democrat. “Some of the methodologies and procedures, although that may not be our intention, end up contributing to that element of mass incarceration.”

Last month, Gill and other state officials joined prosecutors from 20 other states — many of them liberal — and the District of Columbia in calling for probation and parole to be used more sparingly and only for offenders who seem to require it.

Earlier this year, the overwhelmingly Republican state Legislature demanded new guidelines for probation and parole and eliminated mandatory parole for some charges.

Supporters say the focus is an extension of wide-ranging criminal justice reforms lawmakers approved in 2015 intending to keep more than 2,500 people out of prison and save $542 million over 20 years. At the time, the state’s prison population was growing at six times the national rate.

A state commission reported last year Utah was on target to meet its goal without hurting public safety.

“Ninety-five percent of the population that’s incarcerated is going to return to our community,” James Hudspeth said, the director of Utah’s probation and parole office who joined Gill in calling for reform, using Justice Department figures. “So what are we doing to prepare those inmates to return to our communities? That’s where we feel our resources are better used.”

Leighann Marsh, 48, says her story is evidence of the benefit of those methods.

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