Utah State Prison close to capacity

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DRAPER -- The Utah Department of Corrections is looking for solutions to anticipated overcrowding at the Utah State Prison. The department says there's only enough room for two more inmates at the facility.

Our maximum is 6,232 at two prison facilities combined. We're butting right up against that.

–Steve Gehrke

The department says it expected to run into the overcrowding issue by the end of the year, but the prison population is growing faster than predicted at a rate of 10 to 15 inmates per month.

Nearly all beds among the male population are full.

"Our maximum is 6,232 at two prison facilities combined. We're butting right up against that. I mean, we're talking a few beds," says Steve Gehrke of the corrections department.

The department's short-term solution is to send more inmates to 21 county jails as part of the jail contract program. To do that, the department is taking $1.4 million from its budget and putting it toward the program.

"We've decided to take a portion of our budget to delegate to this program. Since capacity is a compelling issue, it's one we have got to address," Gehrke says.

The department met with a legislative subcommittee Wednesday to get approval to move the money. When the Utah Legislature is back in session, the department plans to ask for funding.

Currently the prison is capped at 1,265 inmates it can outsource. But it has asked the Legislature to allow it to go up to 1,400.

Long-term solutions include expanding the Gunnison Prison.

"The problem with that is, from the time you break ground on a new prison building, it takes two years or more for that to open up. So that is only a viable option a couple of years down the road," Gehrke explains.

Another possibility is a parole violator center for those who violate parole with a minor infraction, like drugs or alcohol. The Department says the center could help free up bed space.

"We'll have to bring them back to prison and that could last maybe nine months or so, so they are taking up another bed here. What we think we could do is build a parole violator center in the community that would be essentially a halfway back-in house," Gehrke says.


Story compiled with information from Anne Forester and Becky Bruce.

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