State Prison on 'Verge of Crisis,' Says Chief

State Prison on 'Verge of Crisis,' Says Chief

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DRAPER, Utah (AP) -- More than 25 percent of jobs at Utah State Prison are unfilled, putting loads of overtime on employees and even forcing the warden to wear a uniform to keep watch on inmates.

"We're on the verge of crisis," says Tom Patterson, state Department of Corrections executive director. "We have to fill those spots. I worry about how long we can go at this rate. It frightens me."

Officials blame low pay for the inability to attract and keep prison officers.

Pay is as much as $5 lower per hour than in county jails. Starting pay at the prison is $13.73 an hour. Jails in Salt Lake, Davis and Weber counties start at just under $15.50 an hour, while Utah County pays $16.58 an hour.

There were 156 vacancies last week at a prison housing 5,600 inmates.

Warden Steven Turley recently took the unprecedented step of asking every officer to take one overtime shift during each pay period.

As many as 300 employees are working 12 to 16 hours a day. Turley will put on a uniform for an eight-hour shift on the holiday. "If I'm asking my staff to work Thanksgiving, then I have to do it myself," he said.

Capt. Matthew Huber, who makes the schedule, has been calling people elsewhere in the Corrections Department. "I've been here 12 years, and I have never been so taxed as it has been in the last year," Huber said. "I'm numb."

So is his wife. "There are way too many days when the kids ask, 'Did dad come home last night?"' said Quenette Huber.

Evelyn Ford, 30, moved from the Grand County jail 18 months ago and said she loves her job. She makes $15.73 per hour.

But her job is becoming more tense with first-degree felons moving back to the understaffed prison from county jails. "We are creating a dangerous situation for the people here who are on duty," Ford said.


Information from: Deseret Morning News,

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

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