Changes Ahead for Inmate Housing Program, More Funding Needed

Changes Ahead for Inmate Housing Program, More Funding Needed

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- With a security review of 21 county jails housing state inmates complete, the Department of Corrections said it will make some policy changes, including possibly removing convicted murderers from jails.

The review comes on the heels of a Sept. 23 escape at the Daggett County Jail in Manila, by Danny Gallegos and Juan Diaz-Arevalo. The pair of convicted killers were caught in Wyoming after six days on the run.

The state/county housing system needs modifications and state prisons need better funding, corrections chief Tom Patterson said.

"We have to intervene," Patterson said. "Those are our inmates. We have to have a more active role."

Some 1,533 state prisoners are housed in county jails because of bed shortages at state facilities in Draper and Gunnison. Crowding problems first led prison officials first shipped inmates to county jails in 1988.

Prisoners are separated by behavior classifications -- not criminal charges -- which means that a well-behaved inmate can be transferred to a county jail, even if they've been convicted of murder. County jailers are allowed to select which inmates they'll take.

"We're very selective in what inmates we take," Weber County Sheriff Brad Slater said.

State officials pay counties up to $42 per day to keep the inmates, a rate $30 cheaper than prison housing.

"It's a cost benefit for us to house them out at the counties," Deputy Corrections Director Mike Haddon said.

If he had the money, Patterson said he'd keep state inmates out of county jails, but the cost of a prison expansion and the structure of the state/county partnership make the program unlikely to fold.

"We're stuck in some ways," Patterson said.

Corrections data estimates building enough beds to house the inmates currently in jails is more than $150 million.

Additionally, most counties depend on state monies to pay for new jails and jail expansions.

Beaver County, for example, has a new $7.5 million facility partially paid for by its state contract.

Jail expansions also create an economic boost for counties. In Daggget County, where the population hovers around 940 residents, the jail is one of the largest employers.

"Were we to pull all of our inmates out of the county jails, we'd leave a lot of counties especially the small counties that don't have a good strong economic base unable to meet their obligations," Haddon said.

The Dagget County escape now has lawmakers questioning the wisdom of the state/county program.

"What a dramatic failure it was on the part of the Department of Corrections to allow this kind of situation to occur," Sen. Bill Hickman, R-St. George, said during recent committee meeting. We're darn lucky that we didn't have some deaths as a result of it."

To avoid future problems, Patterson said prison officials will consider an inmate's criminal charge when deciding which inmates can be transferred.

"We have to look more at the original offense of the inmate, not necessarily focus only on their behavior inside the institution in a confined setting," Patterson said.


Information from: Deseret Morning News

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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