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Lawmaker Addresses Issue of Growing Prison Population

Lawmaker Addresses Issue of Growing Prison Population

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Gene Kennedy ReportingIt's always popular to be tough on crime. But that attitude is having a damaging effect on the state of Utah, according to one Utah lawmaker.

The Legislature has boosted several misdemeanor offenses to felonies.

Representative Kay McIff from Richfield has told lawmakers that only adds to an increased prison population. He says boosted penalties are backfiring because they force the state to build new prisons, and add beds and staff.

McIff is a former judge. He says lawmakers need to take a hard look at this issue. He spoke to a legislative committee yesterday.

One of the examples he cited is "drug-free zones." Under that law, an additional penalty is added if someone deals drugs near a church or school. McIff says it's a good concept, but the zones have been expanded to include huge portions of communities, and therefore are not a deterrent.

In today's Deseret Morning News, he's quoted as saying, "The great temptation in cases when something goes amiss (is) we simply ratchet up the penalty because we're offended by it."

Jack Ford, spokesperson for the Department of Corrections, says Utah has one of the lowest incarceration rates in the country. He says many offenders get probation.

Still, prison growth is definitely an issue. It will be interesting to see if the legislature takes on this issue in the next session.

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