Officials: Utah prison population growth among fastest in US

In this Feb. 26, 2015, file photo, Department of Corrections Officers are shown in the Uinta 5 receiving and orientation unit during a media tour, at the Utah State Correctional Facility in Draper, Utah. Authorities say Utah is seeing a dramatic surge in their prison population as more people are convicted on new crimes and drug violations, KSL TV reports. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, Pool, File)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah's prison population has grown faster than most states in the past few years, authorities said.

The Utah Sentencing Commission saw a dramatic surge in prison population as new crimes and drug violations led to more convictions, KSL-TV reported.

Utah's prison population increased by 4.3% from the end of 2016 to the end of 2017, faster than every state except Idaho at 5.1%, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a report released in April.

The average daily inmate population continued to increase, adding 165 prisoners between August 2018 and July 2019, the Utah Department of Corrections said.

"We're seeing more people returning to prison on technical violations and on new crimes that are non-violent petty crimes, mainly drug use," said Marshall Thompson, Utah Sentencing Commission director.

Because there are more inmates, Adult Probation and Parole has to handle larger caseloads, the television station reported.

The target is 50 cases per agent, but the average is currently 65 and has reached as high as 69, probation officers said.

Despite the rise, state officials still attribute support to the Justice Reinvestment Initiative reform passed in 2015.

"We would be in a full-on crisis situation right now. We would need to be shipping people to out-of-state, for-profit prisons at a huge expense to the taxpayer, a huge burden to prosecutors, defense counsel, to victims, and to the offenders and their families," Thompson said.

The prison population was expected to rise with increases to the state's general population, officials said.

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Information from: KSL-TV, http://www.ksl.com/

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