Courts and Justice Reform

Courts and Justice Reform

My legislative service to Utah has been enhanced by my background and experience as an attorney. I’ve worked as a prosecutor as well as a defense attorney, and I’m very familiar with courts and the criminal justice system. While America’s justice system is the best in the world, there is still much room for improvement and reform, and I’ve been honored to sponsor legislation aimed at facilitating better outcomes for those convicted of crimes while preserving safety for our communities.

It’s no secret that our jails in Utah are overcrowded and rehabilitation for those convicted of crimes is oftentimes not achieved. One of the ways we can reduce the number of people in our jails is by reducing crimes committed by juveniles. During my service in the legislature, I chose to focus a large amount of my time and energy on reforms for Juvenile Justice in our state, with legislative efforts that began back in 2016. That year, I was contacted by the Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice and asked to sponsor a series of legislation aimed at changing Utah’s juvenile justice system to ultimately improve outcomes for juveniles who were convicted of crimes, reduce recidivism, and save taxpayer money by putting state funds allocated to juvenile justice to better use. Although this required countless hours of work, time spent traveling to various parts of the state to discuss proposed legislation with agencies that would be involved, HB239 was passed in 2017. This initial bill emphasized early intervention in the juvenile justice system, and attempted to keep low-risk offenders out of detention centers and in their own homes where they weren’t exposed to influence by high-risk offenders, while they received services focused on rehabilitating their behavior, thereby reducing recidivism rates. The primary goal of reform was to change the way juveniles were dealt with in the juvenile justice system while still preserving public safety. My work has continued since 2017 in making changes to better serve the youth of our state.

In 2016, I also successfully sponsored legislation to abolish sentences of life without the possibility of parole for those convicted of crimes while under the age of 18. I was honored to work with several organizations dedicated to the fair treatment of children and youth and feel that this policy better serves the citizens of our state.  As a result of Utah reform of our juvenile justice system, I have been asked to present at several forums and events across the country. Utah has been recognized as a leader in the area of adult and juvenile justice reform.  We still have a great deal of work to be done in these areas, but we continue to make progress to benefit our citizens.

In 2020 I was also pleased to sponsor legislation that expanded the Veterans Court system in Utah so that it is available to veterans throughout the state. The Veterans Court program provides options other than incarceration to those who have served our country and may be suffering from PTSD and other conditions that directly correlate to their service in the military. Not only does this program ultimately save taxpayer money and reduce the number of offenders in our jails, it gives veterans the opportunity to have felony charges reduced to misdemeanor charges, and sometimes dismissed altogether.

Creating better outcomes and saving taxpayer dollars can be achieved through reforms to our current justice system and I will continue to work toward and support legislation that furthers these goals.

https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/issue-briefs/2019/05/utahs-2017-juvenile-justice-reform-shows-early-promise

https://www.sltrib.com/news/2017/10/26/two-utah-lawmakers-honored-for-their-work-in-changing-juvenile-justice-laws/

https://www.fairsentencingofyouth.org/utah-bans-life-without-parole-sentences-for-children/

https://www.stgeorgeutah.com/news/archive/2020/01/28/dld-lgl20-southern-utah-lawmaker-introduces-veterans-court-bill-providing-a-different-option-than-incarceration/#.X1MN6jVME2w