Utah may be poised to dial back punishment for some crimes

Second chances may be coming for at least two categories of convicts in Utah. (Photo: KUTV)

Second chances may be coming for at least two categories of convicts in Utah.

The Utah Sentencing Commission gave its approval Wednesday to a couple of bills being prepared for the upcoming session of the Utah Legislature.

One would lower the penalty for a conviction of possessing or viewing child pornography from 1 to 15 years in prison, to zero to 5 years. It would also boost the potential penalty for making child pornography to up to life in prison.

Another proposed measure would give people a “clean slate“ for convictions of “lower level crimes,” including misdemeanor drug possession. Even a person with multiple non-violent misdemeanor offenses, could have their convictions automatically expunged after seven years of crime-free living.

“We all need second chances,“ said Faye, whose husband is serving time for a sex crime. “We’ve all done things that are wrong.“

She visits him a couple of times a week, and is convinced he’s sorry.

“He’s gone through the treatment,“ she said. “He’s learned from his mistake. He’s not going to re-offend when he gets out.“

The latest moves follow previous criminal justice changes passed by lawmakers, and signed by the governor, going back to 2015, with a greater emphasis on treatment over traditional incarceration.

“Is Utah getting soft on crime?” 2News asked members of the sentencing commission.

“No, Utah is getting smart on crime,” said Kim Cordova, head of the state’s Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice, who stressed penalty decisions are data driven.

“The idea that to be tough on crime you punish punish and punish, first off it’s expensive, and second, we can prove with data that it actually makes things worse,“ said Senator Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley.

But a prosecutor is uneasy about the prospect of dialing back penalties for child porn possession.

“My concerns are that people in those circles, they share child pornography,“ said James Swink, Cache County Attorney. “We don’t want to re-victimize children.“

Swink and other prosecutors will review proposed legislation on Friday. The changes would need approval by the Utah Legislature, which opens its session in a couple of weeks.

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