Reforming Criminal Justice

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

Most recently, Senator Mike Lee and the White House asked Reyes for support in helping pass the First Step Act, which brought historic breakthroughs in areas including Correctional Reform, Sentencing Reform,Reduction in Recidivism, Incentives for Success, Confinement and Oversight and covered issues as diverse as health and hygiene for inmates to reducing mandatory minimum sentences. Reyes has been outspoken against mandatory minimums. 

Reyes was recently with Senior White House officials discussing the possibility of further criminal justice reform at the federal level. He has also worked closely with former acting U.S. Attorney General Matt Whittaker, who is heading the American Freedom Initiative under Freedom Works to recommend pardons and commutations to people treated unfairly by our criminal justice system.

From his first days in office, Reyes has balanced aggressively holding people accountable who break the law and making sure those accused and convicted are treated fairly in the justice system. He began his administration by hiring as his Chief of Staff, who later became his Federal Solicitor, a distinguished senior lawyer out of the Utah Public Defender’s Office. 

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

In his first act as Attorney General, Reyes abolished the usage of Administrative Subpoenas by the AG office given the lack of court supervision or any check on law enforcement’s search of private citizens. This action led to reform at the state level and a new law requiring court approval before 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 for substance abusers and former felons (patterned after Delancey Street) that has seen incredible success giving honest work, leadership skills and opportunities to those who have paid their debt to society, are willing to be held accountable, and start contributing positively rather than returning to prison or 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 and placement upon transitioning from the juvenile justice system. He continues that work with Second Chance for Youth, helping to advise the organization focused on providing youth with criminal records an opportunity for mentorship, responsibility, training and positive decision-making. He has spoken often to inmates at adult and juvenile facilities about making use of their time now and upon release in productive ways.

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

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

The Utah AG office recently hosted prosecutors from the city, county and state level to convene at the Capitol and announce best practices adopted as a prosecutorial community that would provide more uniform application, predictability, transparency and fairness to the justice process such as an open file policy. 

Reyes has been a strong supporter of removing occupational licensure barriers to the formerly incarcerated to curb recidivism, reduce unemployment and strengthen the economy. He has promoted business incentives to hire former inmates, similar to the programs Governor Perry in Texas popularized a decade ago. 

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

Among other programs for which he’s advocated when it comes to justice reform, Reyes also supported passage of Rep. Karianne Lisonbee’s HB281, which allows victims to ask for a new review of serious criminal cases by 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 deescalation, 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