Reforming Criminal Justice

More than any other Republican Attorney General in America,Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes has led criminal justice reform policy andinitiatives in his state, defending civil liberties, due process and exercisingcare in using the significant power vested in him by the people. 

Most recently, Senator Mike Lee and the White House askedReyes for support in helping pass the First Step Act, which brought historicbreakthroughs in areas including Correctional Reform, Sentencing Reform,Reduction in Recidivism, Incentives for Success, Confinement and Oversight andcovered issues as diverse as health and hygiene for inmates to reducingmandatory minimum sentences. Reyes has been outspoken against mandatoryminimums. 

Reyes was recently with Senior White House officialsdiscussing the possibility of further criminal justice reform at the federallevel. He has also worked closely with former acting U.S. Attorney General MattWhittaker, who is heading the American Freedom Initiative under FreedomWorks torecommend pardons and commutations to people treated unfairly by our criminaljustice system.

From his first days in office, Reyes has balancedaggressively holding people accountable who break the law and making sure thoseaccused and convicted are treated fairly in the justice system. He began hisadministration by hiring as his Chief of Staff, who later became his FederalSolicitor, a distinguished senior lawyer out of the Utah Public Defender’sOffice. 

Reyes also recruited as his top leader over theinvestigators and criminal justice lawyers in his office, a former prosecutorwho spent the majority of his career on the defense side of cases, includingdefending clients against various government agencies. 

In his first act as Attorney General, Reyes abolished theusage of Administrative Subpoenas by the AG office given the lack of courtsupervision or any check on law enforcement’s search of private citizens. Thisaction led to reform at the state level and a new law requiring court approvalbefore such searches could be undertaken. 

Shortly thereafter, Reyes and his team helped bring the“Other Side Academy” to Utah, a transition and re-integration program forsubstance abusers and former felons (patterned after Delancey Street) that hasseen incredible success giving honest work, leadership skills and opportunitiesto those who have paid their debt to society, are willing to be heldaccountable, and start contributing positively rather than returning to prisonor conditions that led them there. 

Reyes serves on the Advisory Board of the One Heart Project,an initiative to assist youth find educational and job skill training andplacement upon transitioning from the juvenile justice system. He continuesthat work with Second Chance for Youth, helping to advise the organizationfocused on providing youth with criminal records an opportunity formentor-ship, responsibility, training and positive decision-making. He hasspoken often to inmates at adult and juvenile facilities about making use oftheir time now and upon release in productive ways.

Reyes supported key parts of the state’s JusticeReinvestment Initiative in 2014-2015 and has continued to champion providingmore treatment in lieu of incarceration in programs like drug courts that hehas also promoted. He has also been vocal about limitations of JRI and thefailure to fund it at the level needed for maximum efficacy. 

In addition, Reyes helped support at the conceptual levelall the way to implementation of a first-of-its-kind in Utah program led byBountiful Police Department and Chief Tom Ross designed to move drug addictoffenders directly into treatment and avoid the criminal justice system so longas they remain in treatment. Chief Ross credits Reyes as being one of the firstand most vocal proponents of the program. 

The Utah AG office recently hosted prosecutors from thecity, county and state level to convene at the Capitol and announce bestpractices adopted as a prosecutorial community that would provide more uniformapplication, predictability, transparency and fairness to the justice processsuch as an open file policy. 

Reyes has been a strong supporter of removing occupationallicensure barriers to the formerly incarcerated to curb recidivism, reduceunemployment and strengthen the economy. He has promoted business incentives tohire former inmates, similar to the programs Governor Perry in Texaspopularized a decade ago. 

He has worked cooperatively with the Rocky MountainInnocence Project to compensate and clear the name of those defendants who wereconvicted but were likely innocent when, for example, new DNA evidence supportstheir case; Reyes even hosted a fundraiser to benefit the organization. 

Among other programs for which he’s advocated when it comesto justice reform, Reyes also supported passage of Rep. Karianne Lisonbee’sHB281, which allows victims to ask for a new review of serious criminal casesby the AG office. 

As your Attorney General, Reyes:

  • Supported President Trump’s signing of the landmark First Step Act and worked with Senator Mike Lee, who helped lead bill passage on the U.S. Senate side
  • Abolished the practice of using Administrative Subpoenas without any court oversight
  • Worked with several organizations like the Conservative Rule of Law Defense Fund to the NAACP and Urban League to discuss Criminal Justice Reform measures
  • Advocated for key provisions of Utah’s Justice Reform Initiative (JRI) and subsequent revisions over the years
  • Advocated for new law in 2019 allowing victims to ask for a new review of serious felony cases that were declined for prosecution by another agency  
  • Hired leaders on his executive team from the defense community who help run the office
  • Created and had his team train over 3,000 officers, agents, deputies and troopers in Utah on violence de-escalation, cultural sensitivity and proper use of     force when responding to potentially deadly situations  
  • Vocally supports drug courts and opposes mandatory minimum sentencing
  • Helped bring Other Side Academy to Utah, a highly successful program for re-integrating addicts and the formerly incarcerated
  • Sits on advisory boards for Second Chance and One Heart Project to offer training, mentoring, educational and job skill development to youth transitioning out of juvenile justice system