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Law to reform Utah's juvenile justice system move forward

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SALT LAKE CITY — A Washington County lawmaker described the countless hours spent with working groups, courts and educators to prepare a bill to reform juvenile justice in Utah.

Members of the Utah House took note of the efforts made by Rep. Lowry Snow, R-Santa Clara, to cut costs and meet demands from courts and educators in his bill, HB239, which would favor tiered responses to correct behaviors among juvenile offenders.

"It was not something that was prepared and rubber-stamped by any means," Snow said. "The debate was significant."

The House voted 68-7 to approve the bill Tuesday night and send it to the Senate for its consideration.

Snow said the bill would end "business as usual" in a juvenile justice system where more than half of youth offenders removed from their homes get into trouble again within two years of their release.

He cited an average cost of $127,000 for removing a juvenile offender from a home, which he noted is 17 times the cost for probation and does little to limit recidivism.

The proposed reforms in HB239 would provide more "tools" for dealing with juvenile offenders before placing them in a detention center, Snow said.

"We should not be taking youth away from their families and away from their schools and putting them in work camps," said House Majority Leader Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville.

Wilson supported the bill and said it would "right-size" juvenile justice.

Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns, also supported the bill and shared his concerns about placing low-level offenders alongside felons.

Hutchings cited numbers suggesting that only 19 percent of those in juvenile detention are felony offenders, with the majority being placed in detention for misdemeanor offenses and contempt of court.

"It hurts them. It makes them worse, and then we have a really, really hard time getting them back after they have spent six months making good friends with some really, really tough, bad personalities," he said.

Rep. John Westwood, R-Cedar City, spoke in opposition to the bill.

"I want to see our youth helped. I want to see them progress," Westwood said. "But I want to see adequate funding for that purpose, and I worry that funding is light." Email:

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