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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- State corrections officials are back pedaling on statements that overcrowding at the Utah State Prison may force an early, emergency release of some inmates.
After a meeting with Gov. Jon Huntsman, Department of Corrections Executive Director Scott Carver now says there's "no chance" the state will opt for early releases to deal with crowding problems. A day earlier Carver told a committee of legislators an early release for about 200 Utah inmates was "pretty likely."
Carver isn't saying why he's changed his position, but maintains that the prison will be out of available space this winter, most likely in February.
Instead Carver says Utah will look at other ways to solve the problem, including renting bed space from prisons in neighboring states, or leaving parolees on the street instead of returning them to prison for minor parole violations.
An emergency release can only be ordered by the governor and can occur if the prison population exceeds 6,300 for 45 consecutive days. Inmates eligible for early release must be non violent offenders who already have been awarded a parole date by the state Board of Pardons and Parole.
The state has used early release before, trimming the 2001 corrections budget by letting 237 male inmates out early. Officials have continued to identify good candidates for early release in the years since, recommending those to the board.
Carver said it wouldn't be practical to allow the prison population to exceed it's maximum capacity for more than a month.
But Clint Friel, warden of the prison at Point of the Mountain, is prepared to put inmates on cots or in tents if it does.
"We are not going to let anybody out who we believe is going to be a threat to the community," he said. "Because we live in the community."
Overcrowding is expected to ease upon the completion of the Beaver County jail expansion project next year. The county contracts with the state to house felons.
The state is also increasing capacity at its Gunnison prison by 288 beds. That should be open for use in late 2006.
(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)