Corrections predicts problems if prison expansion is delayed

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The Utah Corrections Department says it needs extra prison cells or there will be significant problems for the prison system and the community. Spokeswoman Angie Welling says as many as 500 inmates could get an early release this year or next.

Last year the state allocated $54.5 million to expand the Central Utah Correctional Facility, an expansion that would add almost 200 beds to the facility. But with the state cinching up the budget belt, that money has been reallocated.

Representatives from the Utah Department of Corrections will be meeting with lawmakers this week to let them know that while this funding cut may solve a few problems right now, in the long run it is going to create some even bigger ones.

The Department of Corrections projects that by 2012 the state will need to release upwards of 500 inmates due to overcrowding.

By law, once the prisons max out on bed space they must release inmates after 45 days. In the past, inmates were sent to various county jails, but after a series of escapes in 2007, the Department of Corrections changed that policy.

Welling says at the rate in which inmates are currently being brought in, inmates could start being released by the end of this year, maybe even sooner. "If the economy continues to get worse, we can see crime go up, and we might see a spike even beyond what we are projecting in our bed space needs, and that is going to cause additional problems," she said.

"The first priority would be those nonviolent, low-level offenders that we feel we can supervise in the community using our probation and parole officers to protect public safety as much as possible," she said.

Welling says Corrections will work with the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole to determine which inmates could potentially be released. The Board released a statement saying that they would review each offender's case individually and decide if he or she is a good candidate for an earlier release, and that the Board acts with deliberation and that its first priority is with regard to public safety.

"We are trying to assure the general public that we will do this in a way that meets the public's safety needs, and we will look for those inmates that are the most appropriate to be released," Welling said.

She added, "We will try to put that off as long as possible, and if we can prevent it from happening, we absolutely will. We will maximize the bed space we have already," she added.

Welling says that the Department of Corrections will be looking at all of the options available prior to releasing inmates but says that the expansion is what is needed.



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Mary Richards and Shara Park


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