Preliminary Impact of Felony and Misdemeanor Drug Filings Due to JRI
2015’s HB 348 is one of the most ambitious pieces of legislation the Utah Legislature has passed in recent memory. The bill makes sweeping changes to the criminal justice system through the creation of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI). JRI moves a host of formerly drug felony charges to class A misdemeanors. It also shifts the emphasis on drug offenses from incarceration to treatment. The impacts to county government from JRI are huge and far-reaching.
The majority of the changes in the justice system from JRI took effect on October 1, 2015. That means we have just over half a year’s worth of data to assess the impacts of the bill. That being said, there are a lot of moving parts associated with JRI. Tackling all of the impacts from JRI will be a herculean effort. This article will not attempt that; instead we’ll consider one small aspect of the bill. We’ll address other aspects of JRI in future Counties by the Numbers articles in the weeks and months to come (we’re basically eating the elephant one bite at a time).
In the second quarter of FY16 (the last quarter of 2015), the number of drug-related court filed class A misdemeanors saw a three fold increase. At the same time, drug-related court-filed felonies dropped at the same rate. Overnight, we move from 558 class A misdemeanors in quarter one to 1,626 in quarter two!
The results of this shift are far reaching. Since the day that Brigham Young declared, “this is the right place,”* Utah’s counties have been fighting with the State over condition of probation funding. With the shift from felonies to misdemeanors, condition of probation will become a much smaller program (as will, it should be noted, jail contracting). The impacts to counties don’t stop there. We’re expecting huge impacts on our treatment services, jails, and other services as well. If anything, the data that is slowly rolling out from criminal justice reform suggests that we’ll need to be ever-vigilant and work closely with our state partners to ensure that no one forgets that the “R” in JRI stands for reinvestment.
*An exaggeration, but only a slight one.
If you have a subject you’d like UAC to explore in a future Counties by the Numbers article, please email Arie Van De Graaff at firstname.lastname@example.org