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Utah chief justice calls for Legislature to finish what it started, fund drug treatment

Durrant urges lawmakers to finish what they started by bolstering funding for treatment.

Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune Utah Chief Justice Matthew Durrant gives the State of the Judiciary to members of the Utah House of Representatives Monday Jan. 23, the first day of the 2017 session.

Utah Supreme Court Chief Justice Matthew Durrant lauded legislators Monday for passing judicial reforms in recent years that focused more on treatment than on incarceration in drug-addiction cases because it decreases repeat offenses.

But he said they failed to do one important thing.

"The treatment side of JRI [the Justice Reinvestment Initiative] has yet to be adequately addressed," he said.

So Durrant pleaded for more money for treatment programs during his annual State of the Judiciary address.

"I encourage you to find a way to complete the entire JRI package and allow this significant reform to cross the finish line," he said. "The successes that all of us are hoping for depend on this last critical piece of the puzzle being in place."

Durrant said the initiative "was and remains the right policy decision" based on "the idea that in appropriate cases, the far better response to criminal behavior is treatment rather than incarceration."

He said that is because "in the long run our society is safer and cost savings are significant if we can somehow shut the revolving door that leads those addicted to drugs to end up back in jail or prison time and again."

He added that the Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice is about to suggest some juvenile-justice reforms based on studies about how best to address delinquency — but he suggested they be passed only if they can be fully funded.

"I would put it this way," Durrant said. "If the juvenile-justice reform proposal cannot be adequately funded, and we sincerely hope that is possible, I think the better course would be to defer it to next year so that the reforms can be matched to the resources."

Durrant also sought funding for a new judge in the Fifth Judicial District in the southwestern part of the state.

"Our projections show this as the last hot spot that can't be addressed in other ways," he said. "We believe this will be the last new judge we request for a number of years to come."

After recounting a number of technological improvements made by Utah courts over the past 20 years, the justice joked that it's also been about 20 years since Chicago Bulls star Michael Jordan made a controversial play to beat the Utah Jazz in the NBA Finals.

"I know that some argue he did not push off; most of them live in Chicago," he said. "But after much consideration, I am now prepared to rule. He pushed off. And if you think I don't have the power to decide that, you haven't read the Utah Constitution."

Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune Utah Chief Justice Matthew Durrant, upper left, gives the State of the Judiciary to members of the Utah House of Representatives Monday Jan. 23, the first day of the 2017 session.

Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune Utah Chief Justice Matthew Durrant gives the State of the Judiciary to members of the Utah House of Representatives Monday Jan. 23, the first day of the 2017 session.

Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune Utah Chief Justice Matthew Durrant gives the State of the Judiciary to members of the Utah House of Representatives Monday Jan. 23, the first day of the 2017 session.

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