Assessing the Impact of Utah's Reclassification of Drug Possession

Brief

Assessing the Impact of Utah's Reclassification of Drug Possession

Abstract

Utah adopted criminal justice reform legislation (H.B. 348) in 2015 to curb prison population growth and invest in behavioral health treatment, including reclassifying first and second drug possession convictions from felonies to misdemeanors. Our analysis finds that Utah successfully reduced the number of felony drug possession convictions, with a 71 percent drop between 2014 and 2018. Additionally, people spent a combined 105,011 fewer days in prison for drug possession in the two years following reform than in the two years before. Furthermore, reconviction and imprisonment rates for people with drug possession convictions were low prior to the policy reform and remained unchanged afterwards. However, Utah’s prison population is again growing, arrests for drug possession are rising despite declining arrests overall, and prison admissions for possession with intent to distribute offenses are increasing. This brief offers recommendations that Utah policymakers can consider to build on prior reforms, address additional prison population growth, and continue to invest in more effective public safety solutions.

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