Q. What is JRI?
JRI stands for Justice Reinvestment Initiative and includes changes to Utah’s criminal justice system incorporated in HB 348, approved by lawmakers and Gov. Gary R. Herbert in the 2015 session.
The Legislature worked with the Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice and the Pew Research Center to come up with the proposed changes, which are driven by data and outcomes — that is, they are based on evidence about what works.
The expectation is that JRI will reduce our incarceration and recidivism rates, resulting in taxpayer savings. It will do that by allowing more low-risk offenders — particularly those with substance abuse and mental health problems — to be treated in the community while continuing to incarcerate those who pose a risk or threat to community.
Q. What will change with sentencing laws?
A. HB 348 — also known as the Justice Reinvestment Initiative — reduces penalties for certain drug crimes. The reduced sentences will shorten the expiration date (maximum potential sentence) for sentences entered after Oct. 1, 2015.
The Sentencing Commission’s updated Guidelines take effect on that date.
Q. What exactly will change in the prison system?
A. As of Oct. 1, inmates will be eligible for time cuts (at least four months) for completing programs shown to be most proven and effective in reducing recidivism — including education, substance abuse and sex offender treatment programs.
In addition, the Utah Department of Corrections (UDC) is heightening the focus on helping inmates successfully transition from prison to the community through the use of transition specialists, volunteer transition mentors and deepened relationships with our community partners.
UDC is increasingly looking at what drives an offender’s criminal behavior and trying to individualize treatment and programming to address that offender’s needs and reduce odds that he or she will return to prison.
Q. What are the programs that, if listed in a Case Action Plan and completed, will get an inmate a time cut?
A. Programs currently eligible (more will be added over time) include:
• High school/GED
• Vocational training
• Substance abuse treatment
• Sex offender treatment
UDC decided to include only those programs that were evidence-based, those that had a high amount of rigor and fidelity, and those with definite completion criteria. On that note, completion criteria will be more rigorous, so inmates will not be deemed “successful” for simply attending a program. Successful completion requires active and positive participation.
Q. Will inmates who don’t have high school/GED completion, substance abuse or sex offender treatment as a priority in their Case Action Plan be eligible for a time cut?
A. Generally, if an offender has one of these areas of need it will show up in their risk/need assessment and then be listed as a goal in their Case Action Plan. The intention of JRI is not to simply administer programs to offenders for the purpose of getting them out of prison earlier; the purpose is to ensure they complete programs that help them rehabilitate and address their needs so they return to the community better prepared to succeed.
Corrections will continually look to develop other programs to address issues that lead to criminal behavior. For example, our Programming Division is in the process of adding evidence-based programs that address cognitive-behavioral issues in anticipation of including them on the list of programs eligible for earned time cuts.
Q. What about inmates who are unable to get into an eligible program due to medical, safety, housing or privilege restrictions?
A. UDC’s security and housing staff are working with Programming staff to establish evidence-based programming opportunities in all housing locations. In addition, we are changing the way we work with inmates in restrictive housing with the goal of transitioning many of them to general population, where they can safely participate in programs.
Inmates with intensive medicals needs are usually housed at the Utah State Prison, where all of these programs are available.
Q. What will change at the Utah Board of Pardons & Parole?
A. HB 348 requires the Board to grant time cuts of at least four months when an inmate successfully completes the highest-ranked priority in his or her Case Action Plan. It may give an additional time cut of at least four months when an inmate completes a second Case Action Plan program.
Inmates serving a life without parole or expire life sentence are not eligible for these time cuts.
The Board may order the forfeiture of earned time credits for major disciplinary infractions.
There may be situations when a previously ordered release date does not allow enough time for the full four or eight month time cut; however, the Board will approve as much a time cut as is practical while still enabling UDC time to provide some basic transitional services.
The Board, working with the Sentencing Commission and UDC has established guidelines for how long an offender may be incarcerated when parole is revoked. HB 348 also expanded the definition of jail time that the Board can credit as time served as a condition of probation or for a probation violation.
For probationers and parolees serving three years of parole supervision, the Board may reduce that term by 30 days for each successful month of parole completion.
Q. Does the time cut come off an inmate or offender’s guideline date or expiration date?
A. The cut comes off an inmate’s previously ordered release date. The Board considers the Sentencing Guideline date and may go above or below the guideline based on aggravating and mitigating factors. After a release date has been established the date may be moved up by as much as eight months based on the inmate’s completion of Case Action Plan priorities.
If the inmate does not yet have a planned release date from the Board, the program completion is placed in the inmate’s file. When the Board eventually grants a release date, that date will incorporate eligible time cuts.
Q. If an inmate completes a program why won’t you move the Board hearing up four months?
A. The Board is changing the timing of original hearings so inmates will have a hearing well in advance of the Sentencing Guideline date and can take full advantage of the earned time program.
Q. If an inmate is already incarcerated will the Board recalculate his or her date using the new guidelines?
A. The new sentencing guidelines are not retroactive, though the Board has been granting time cuts, when notified and eligible, in a soft launch of JRI in the transition period leading up to Oct. 1. Offenses sentenced on or after October 1 are subject to the new guidelines.
Q. Are you letting inmates out of prison early?
A. The Justice Reinvestment Initiative is a proactive policy change to slow prison population growth by meeting the needs of low-risk offenders (particularly those who need substance abuse and mental health treatment) in the community when appropriate and allowing offenders who are incarcerated to leave prison after they have completed certain programming goals and when they are ready.
Offenders who pose a threat to public safety will continue to be incapacitated through incarceration. Our prisons will be increasingly focused on serious and violent offenders, while some offenders will be diverted to community-based treatment programs — allowing them to stay connected to jobs and support networks.
JRI involves coordination with the Courts, the Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health, the Utah Department of Corrections, the Utah Board of Pardons & Parole, the counties and various State entities.
Q. What will change at Adult Probation & Parole?
A. One major change at AP&P is that probation and parole agents will begin giving incentives for positive behavior rather than sanctioning an offender for negative behavior.
Probationers and paroles who follow the rules and proactively work toward their own success will be eligible for earned compliance credit that could potentially cut their time under supervision in half — from 36 months to 18 months.
A new Response & Incentives Matrix will provide more continuity to how AP&P deals with positive and negative behavior of probationers and parolees statewide.
At the same time, AP&P will implement a new “swift and certain” response to negative behavior, with immediate steps taken for individual acts of noncompliance rather than allowing negative acts to accumulate. Offenders may be sent to jail for brief two to three day stays, for example.
AP&P’s resources statewide also are expanding to allow more effective treatment of offenders through Treatment Resource Centers.
AP&P also is in the process of hiring Transition Specialists who will strive to improve the way people are released from prison into the community.
Q. Who is eligible for time cuts on their community supervision sentences?
A. The credit is an option for all offenders who have received a 36-month term of probation or parole supervision, going forward from Oct. 1, 2015.
Q. For earned compliance credit, what constitutes a successful month of parole?
A. An offender will earn a reduction of 30 days for each violation free month. At the most basic level, this can mean a standard 36-month supervision term is potentially shortened to 18 months.
Q. What if the offender is still in treatment?
A. If the earned compliance termination date would interrupt the completion of a necessary treatment program, the court or Board of Pardons and Parole is not required to terminate supervision. In this case, the termination of supervision will occur when the treatment program is completed.
Q. What about people serving time in a county jail for a probation or parole violation? Or who have been sent to Utah from another state?
A. Those offenders housed in county jails as a condition of probation will not be eligible to earn this credit while incarcerated.
Likewise, offenders compacted in to Utah under a different state’s jurisdiction will not be eligible for this credit. However, Utah inmates serving their sentence in another state will be eligible, since they still fall under Utah’s jurisdiction.
Q. If an inmate completed a program at some point in the past, then paroled or released, and is now back for a new conviction or a parole violation, will they receive a time cut for that past program completion?
A. No. The time cut only applies to program completions that occur during an inmate’s current incarceration. Example: Inmate John Doe graduated high school and walked in the June 2015 commencement ceremony. He then paroled in August 2015. He returned to prison on a violation in September 2015 and now wants to claim four months off of his new Board-ordered sentence for having completed high school in June. He is not entitled to a four-month cut for this period of incarceration. However, if he is able to somehow complete a different qualifying program during his stay on a parole violation, then he will be entitled to a four-month time cut for that new activity.
Q. Why aren’t the provisions of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative retroactive?
A. The Utah Legislature set the effective date for these changes as Oct. 1, 2015, which means they apply to sentences and inmate/offender achievements going forward. The Board and UDC have allowed a soft start of the earned time credits provision, allowing eligible program completions to be considered even prior to Oct. 1.
Q. What does it mean to be a JRI treatment provider?
A. All programs funded by DSAMH, Corrections or CCJJ that provide substance abuse or mental health prevention, treatment or recovery support services to individuals involved in the Justice System are considered providers.
Q. What does it mean to be a JRI client?
A. All individuals required to participate in treatment by the Courts, including Drug Court clients, DORA program clients, and all others who are required to participate in treatment as a condition of probation or parole.
Q. What will the provider certification standards look like?
A. A group that includes clinical directors, USAAV Treatment Subcommittee members, CCJJ, Department of Corrections and the Administrative Office of the Courts is working to establish the treatment standards. This group is looking at the large body of research that shows what works with a criminal justice treatment population. These standards will be in place by January 2016 and all programs that will be treating the JRI population under contract with the State will be certified by July 1, 2016.
Q. What impact would Healthy Utah have on individuals receiving treatment under JRI?
A. Healthy Utah would increase access to services and provide for an adequate continuum of behavioral health services to individuals in this population.
Q. What’s your response to people who say this represents a soft on crime mentality?
A. It’s smart on crime. JRI is already working in 24 states, where it has been shown to maintain public safety. Utah has one of the lowest incarceration rates in the country but its rate has been increasing while the rate in other states has generally shrunk.
If Utah does nothing, its prison population is expected to grow 37 percent — 2,700 new inmates — by 2034.
JRI is projected to allow Utah to reduce its prison growth by 2,551 inmates over the next 20 years and avert $542 million in spending related to incarceration.
Evidence shows that low-risk offenders are actually less likely to reoffend and more likely to succeed if they are treated in the community and avoid incarceration.
JRI also acknowledges the importance of treatment, family, employment and other social connections that help a person live as a law-abiding, contributing member of our communities.
At the same time, public safety is its paramount goal with a focus on treatment and rehabilitation.
Q. What does JRI have to do with the relocation of the Utah State Prison?
A. JRI is expected to significantly slow growth in the inmate population, which may delay the need for additional beds for many years. With JRI in mind, the State plans to build a new facility with the same number of beds as currently exist at the Utah State Prison. The new facility will be built with an intentional focus on the reforms and evidence-based programs that are at the foundation of JRI.
Q. How soon will Utah begin to see changes in its criminal justice system as a result of the launch of JRI?
A. Immediately. Work is already underway with the Board of Pardons & Parole and the Courts to see which probationers and parolees are low-risk and can be released from supervision.
In the transition period leading up to Oct. 1, UDC and the Board began working to give time cuts to inmates who completed eligible programs even though that element of JRI does not officially kick in until Thursday.
Q. Why should the public care?
A. JRI will allow many low-risk offenders to stay connected to their families, while maintaining public safety through incarceration of more high-risk and violent offenders.
JRI will save taxpayers’ money, a benefit to all Utahns. But JRI can’t just be a criminal justice system initiative. Its success will require employers willing to give former offenders jobs; it will require families and friends willing to establish a supportive environment conducive to change.
Since approximately 97 percent of inmates will rejoin their communities at some future point, living in our neighborhoods and shopping in our stores.
And that means JRI will require all Utahns to embrace the idea of second chances.