Utah sees growth in prison population despite reform

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The prison population in Utah has grown despite reform efforts aimed at curbing the number of inmates.

The state averaged 6,781 prison inmates each day last month, about 300 more than it had a year earlier, The Salt Lake Tribune reported Tuesday.

Utah’s inmate population increased by 4.3% from 2016 to 2017 – a period when the national population dropped by 1.2%, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Justice.

The state’s inmate growth rate was second only to Idaho at 5.1%.

“The prison population’s growing faster than it has in the last decade,” Utah Department of Corrections Executive Director Mike Haddon told state lawmakers earlier this year.

The department is tracking an increased number of parolees and probationers, and it is being asked to conduct more pre-sentence investigations, Haddon said.

State lawmakers in 2015 reduced the penalties for many drug offenses and cut back the amount of prison time for parole violations for nonviolent offenders.

The year after the reforms, prosecutors filed 14% fewer felony cases, according to Utah State Courts figures. The filings increased slightly in each following year.

Since the reforms, parole violators have been found to be more likely to return to prison, and there has been an increase in new convictions for parolees, according to reports from the state Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice.

The state is working to figure out why so many parolees are returning to prison, said Kim Cordova, the commission’s executive director. Despite the prison population increase, the number of inmates is still lower than projections made before the prison reforms, she said.

“This has been a significant culture change,” Cordova said.

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