Hatch joins Utah leaders in promoting criminal justice reform

WASHINGTON — Sen. Orrin Hatch, member and former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, spoke at an event at Pew Charitable Trusts Thursday alongside Utah leaders on the topic of criminal justice reform.

Hatch’s remarks focused on the need for a comprehensive criminal justice reform bill that considers a variety of inputs and focuses on evidence-based practices. He also described three problems that federal criminal justice reform must address. He said:

First is the problem of overcriminalization. Not every bad act needs to be a crime. In many cases, civil penalties suffice. Fines or other sanctions can incentivize good behavior without expanding government’s authority to brand people as criminals.

Second is the problem of overfederalization. Not every crime needs to be a federal crime. In many, perhaps most, situations, states have the necessary authority to bring bad actors to justice. There is no need to create duplicate layers of law enforcement for every offense.

Third is the problem of inadequate criminal intent requirements. One of the foundational features of our criminal law is the idea that a criminal offense requires the confluence of a wrongful act and a guilty mind. This requirement protects individuals who unwittingly or accidentally break some law — a law they may not even know exists — from being swept up in the criminal justice system. Many federal criminal statutes lack any sort of criminal intent requirement. This is a problem that needs to be addressed, and I am working on legislation to do just that.

Hatch spoke on criminal justice reform on the Senate floor last week, focusing on the need to ensure robust criminal intent requirements in federal criminal laws. A video of that speech is available here.

Hatch was joined at Pew by Governor Gary Herbert; Sen. Mike Lee; Ron Gordon, the executive director of Utah’s Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice; Rollin Cook, executive director of Utah’s Department of Corrections; and Representative Eric Hutchings, of the Utah House of Representatives.

Hatch’s full remarks, as prepared for delivery, are below:

You know, I may be a bit biased, but I think Utah’s a great state.  It’s an innovative state, with smart, motivated people who are committed to improving Utah and to making it an even better place to live.  Utahns like to think outside the box and approach challenges from new directions.  It’s part of our DNA, a legacy of our pioneer forebears, who used their wits and work ethic to make the desert bloom.

Utah’s criminal justice reforms take an innovative approach to the problems of prison overpopulation and recidivism. The goal of the reforms is to focus prison resources on those individuals who are the greatest dangers to our communities. The reforms improve mental health and other treatment services, give probation and parole officers greater flexibility in supervising releasees, and strengthen programs to help offenders successfully reenter society

Congress could learn a lot from Utah’s efforts.  Congress could learn a lot from Utah generally.  I’d like to highlight two lessons for you

First, the bill Governor Herbert signed is a comprehensive bill.  It is not a sentencing bill.  It is not a prison bill.  It is a comprehensive bill that addresses a number of criminal justice issues.  Sometimes in Congress we can get too focused on individual priorities and miss the opportunity for broader collaboration.  My colleagues and I should consider a variety of inputs as we tackle criminal justice reform.  The issue is simply too important to spend our time worrying about turf.

Second, Utah’s reforms incorporate evidence-based practices that have been shown to reduce recidivism and help offenders reenter the community. These reforms rely on data, not assumptions. They take account of real-world effects. Congress should keep in mind how the various proposals it’s considering will play out in real life. We should base our efforts on evidence, not grand theories of social justice.

Of course, we all know that the federal government is different from state governments.  The federal government does not have a general police power.  Federal crimes are limited to the offenses Congress creates.  In addition, many crimes are better prosecuted at the state level.  State officials have a better sense of community needs and priorities.

In my remaining time, I would like to briefly mention three problems that federal criminal justice reform must address.

First is the problem of overcriminalization.  Not every bad act needs to be a crime.  In many cases, civil penalties suffice.  Fines or other sanctions can incentivize good behavior without expanding government’s authority to brand people as criminals.

Second is the problem of overfederalization. Not every crime needs to be a federal crime. In many, perhaps most, situations, states have the necessary authority to bring bad actors to justice. There is no need to create duplicate layers of law enforcement for every offense.

Third is the problem of inadequate criminal intent requirements.  One of the foundational features of our criminal law is the idea that a criminal offense requires the confluence of a wrongful act and a guilty mind.  This requirement protects individuals who unwittingly or accidentally break some law—a law they may not even know exists—from being swept up in the criminal justice system.  Many federal criminal statutes lack any sort of criminal intent requirement. This is a problem that needs to be addressed, and I am working on legislation to do just that.

Thank you, again, for inviting me to be here today. I look forward to helping criminal justice reform move through Congress.

Submitted by the office of Orrin Hatch

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5 Comments

  • Billy Madison October 3, 2015 at 8:17 pm

    Come on Orrin, lets go back to the home. Tonight is mac & cheese, your favorite. Bingo will be tomorrow night if you are good, and you can go to the zoo on Friday for an hour.

    • mesaman October 3, 2015 at 9:34 pm

      It seems impossible to please some people even when the actions of our senators are just and sensible. I guess some people are just hard wired to be obstinate whiners. But without them there would be no democrat party.

      • native born new mexican October 3, 2015 at 10:15 pm

        I really don’t like Mr. Hatch but on this issue he is correct for what ever his reason. If things keep going as they are there will be two groups of people in this country; those who are in the criminal – legal system ( it isn’t justice) and those who make money running and working in the system. The above is a terrible way to live and run a country. It has to stop. Every thing isn’t a crime or a go to jail offense and it certainly is not a federal crime. People get locked up in for profit prisons for long years working their no pay prison jobs while investors make money off their free labor. If you are poor you get to be a prison slave if you are rich you get to invest in for profit prison companies and make a nice profit off of the labor of the unfortunates locked up in your company jail. Way to go America!!

        • 42214 October 4, 2015 at 6:52 pm

          I pray everyday for the poor felons that should not be incarcerated simply to line the pockets of greedy jail companies. They should be released and compensated for the injustice they suffered. I doubt there are any poor souls in prison who should be there.

  • sagemoon October 5, 2015 at 8:42 am

    Occasionally Hatch makes sense and says something worth reading. It’s good to see he gave the State of Utah credit for their efforts at reform.

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