This legislative session, Utah lawmakers will have the opportunity to reduce crime, cut taxpayer costs, and improve the success and sustainability of communities.

In June of 2016, state leadership from all three branches of Utah government gathered together to appoint a 19-member inter-branch working group to complete a data-driven assessment of the Utah juvenile justice system.

Despite high costs for placing youth in state custody, recidivism rates remain stubbornly high. Out-of-home placement for juveniles can cost taxpayers up to $127,750 per year for negligible results, compared to just $7,500 for community supervision. In fact, more than 50% are convicted of another crime within two years.

Studies conducted by the Utah Juvenile Justice Working Group show that the majority of referrals into the juvenile justice system are for misdemeanor offenses, and more than 80 percent of youth entering the court system for the first time present a low risk to reoffend.

Based on these findings, the Utah Juvenile Justice Working Group, with technical assistance from the Pew Charitable Trusts and The Crime and Justice Institute at CRJ, proposed various policy recommendations. These recommendations include preventing deeper involvement in the juvenile justice system for lower level youth; protecting public safety by focusing system resources on violent offenders; and sustaining improved outcomes through reinvestment and increased accountability.

House bill 239, introduced by Rep. V. Lowry Snow (R-UT), implements legislation based on these recommendations. The ‘Juvenile Justice Amendments’ bill aims to increase public safety, effectively hold juvenile offenders accountable, and improve juvenile justice system resources for youth who pose the greatest risk to public safety.

Senate President Wayne Neiderhauser (R-UT) supports the policy within the bill by stating “We are confident that with this evidence-based process Utah will adopt policies that improve outcomes for our youth, families, communities, and ultimately achieve a stronger public safety return on investment.”

If legislation within HB 239 is enacted, the changes are estimated to save $58 million in averted costs from Juvenile Justice Services and the Division of Child and Family Services over 5 years. The new laws will also reduce the population of youth in out-of-home placements by 49 percent by 2022. These savings would then be reinvested to help courts keep juveniles with their families while holding them accountable.