Sentencing Guidelines in Utah

Once someone has pleaded guilty or been found guilty of a crime, sentencing will soon follow which depends on many factors specific to the case as well as Utah law and the sentencing guidelines stated by the Utah Sentencing Commission.

Lesser offenses

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When someone breaks the law, the crime committed could be a minor offense such as an infraction, a more significant offense like a misdemeanor, or even a serious felony offense. What each crime is classified as along with the possible punishment for breaking that specific law can be found in the Utah State Code. Infractions such as most traffic violations do not result time behind bars, just a monetary fine no greater than $750. Misdemeanors are offenses that are considered worse than infractions, but not as severe as a felony and can result in fines and jail time. According to Utah Courts, a misdemeanor offense is broken down into three categories that include:

• Class C misdemeanors such as driving without registration or negligent cruelty to animals, punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a fine up to $750;
• Class B misdemeanors including prostitution and harassment, punishable by up to 6 months in jail and a fine up to $1,000;
• Class A misdemeanors such as stalking and reckless endangerment, punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine up to $2,500;

Major offenses

A felony is the most severe of crimes and could result in a fine and prison. Felonies are categorized into four groups:

• Third-degree felonies including habitual wanton destruction of protected wildlife and felony discharge of a firearm with no injuries, punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of no more than $5,000;
• Second-degree felonies such as burglary of a dwelling and possession of child pornography which carry possible prison terms of 1 to 15 years in prison and a possible fine of $10,000;
• First-degree felonies for example rape and sodomy on a child, punishable by 5 years to life in prison and a fine no greater than $10,000;
• Capital felonies such as murder can result in either life in prison with or without parole and even the death penalty.

Sentencing guidelines and matrix

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Although many crimes have already been categorized along with appropriate punishment decided by the Utah Legislature, there are many other factors that are taken into account before a judge will decide on a sentence. The Utah Sentencing Commission has issued a manual complete with guidelines and a matrix that can be followed to ensure that sentencing is fair for each specific case. According to the Utah Sentencing Commission Philosophy Statement, “The Sentencing Commission promotes evidence-based sentencing policies that effectively address the three separate goals of criminal sentencing:

• Risk Management [imposing a punishment or penalty that is proportionate to the gravity of the offense and the culpability of the offender.]
• Risk Reduction [appropriate identification and reduction of an offender’s individual criminal risk factors.]
• Restitution [repayment of damages to the community or to victims resulting from an offense]”

According to Utah Courts, the guidelines and matrix designed by the Sentencing Commission takes into account things such as:

• “Aggravating factors” such as significance of injuries and the relationship between the offender and victim;
• Enhanced penalties such as if a deadly weapon is used or if the offender is a repeat offender; and
• “Mitigating factors” that can include the offender’s behavior since the crime or a clinical evaluation on their mental health during the crime.

According to the Utah Sentencing Commission, “Utah law provides the basis for the sentencing and release of criminal offenders. ( . . . ) The guidelines are an attempt to further structure decision-making relative to sentencing and release, yet still retain the flexibility to deal with individual cases.” Use of these guidelines along with the Utah statutes should ensure anyone facing criminal charges is treated fairly and individually. To ensure this, it is best to have legal representation before and during sentencing hearings.

Changes Finally in Store for Utah’s Sex Offender Treatment Program (SOTP)

After years of the supply for therapy not matching the demand, changes are finally in store for Utah’s sex offender treatment program (SOTP).

One case of many

Waiting

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Speaking with the family of an inmate housed at Central Utah Correctional Facility in Gunnison Utah, their family member has served four years of a one to 15 year sentence for a second degree, sexual related crime. In four years since he was incarcerated, the inmate has waited to attend the Sex Offender Treatment Program without actually making it onto the waiting list. The inmate went before a parole board and was denied immediately after it was determined he had not finished (or even started) the treatment for sex offenders. Months after his parole hearing, the inmate’s name was finally added to the waiting list for the Sex Offender Treatment Program, with therapy expected to begin in 18 long months. After continuing to wait and eventually completing the treatment program, this particular inmate will have served more than half his maximum sentence before there is even a chance at him becoming eligible for parole. Sadly, this is not an uncommon fate among sex offenders currently lost in the prison population.

Waiting for help

According to the Utah Department of Corrections, “Nearly one-third of the inmates in Utah’s prison system are serving time for a sexual offense.” Many of the inmates who are incarcerated for sexual related offenses have been so for years without any behavioral therapy to aid them in their rehabilitation. Utah has a sex offender treatment program in place, however it has recently been determined that there were serious failings in the system, including the way it was being managed, operated, and funded. After decades of using a flawed system, changes are finally on the horizon.

No funding

One of the first problems to note with the current Sex Offender Treatment Program is the lack of funding. The amount of inmates needing treatment for sexual crimes has grown rapidly over the last twenty years without the funding increasing at all during this time. Not only has funding remained stagnant for the sex offender treatment program, a special housing facility meant to house sex offenders while they receive treatment was closed two years ago when the state was unable, or unwilling, to staff it. The sex offender treatment program was then moved to the Utah State Prison in Draper to be poorly managed while those needing treatment are scattered at other facilities around the state to await treatment. The cost of housing those inmates is great in comparison to the cost of treating them.

“Fundamental flaws”

Utah Department of Corrections recently discovered through a performance audit of the Sex Offender Treatment Program (SOTP) that there were “fundamental flaws in the way the SOTP was operating”. The program was outdated, the therapists were underpaid or underqualified, and the sex offenders receiving treatment were receiving a standard blanket therapy and not one tailored to their specific needs. Fortunately, the old director of the Sex Offender Treatment Program has been reassigned and a new director more suited for the job is eager to make changes.

Changes for sex offender treatment program (SOTP)

According to an article posted by the UDC, several changes are set to take place in the Sex Offender Treatment Program. They plan to use “an evidence-based program using cognitive-behavioral approached combined with a relapse prevention approach.” This new approach will help those who are high risk, low risk, disabled, as well as provide help following completion of treatment. They also stated that “other SOTP changes include:

• Conducting rigorous, real-time, and continuous risk assessments of the participants to ensure that the program is working effectively, which include following industry guidelines.
• New processes/criteria for entering, suspending and removing from treatment including removing punitive measures for treatment termination.
• Increased communication with the Board of Pardons and Parole and improved processes to reduce therapists’ administrative tasks for reports so they can focus on treating offenders.
• Introducing on-site aftercare services for offenders to access ongoing counseling, psychotherapy, and meetings in a modified Therapeutic Community setting.
• Implementing a strategic plan with goals, objectives, performance measures and evaluations for the SOTP.
• Adjusting position titles and roles to match the industry standards, treatment team’s duties and responsibilities.
• Working with the Department of Human Resource Management to determine competitive pay for psychologists. “

For those currently facing time for a sexual related crime, there is hope for proper and prompt treatment in the future. Those who are already incarcerated should see the effects of these changes shortly.