Utah State Prisons Reach Capacity

Utah’s state prisons may be facing a crisis. The two state facilities at Gunnison and Point of the Mountain have reached their 6,200 male inmate capacity. Unless a solution is adopted soon, prison overcrowding puts Utah’s citizens in harm’s way.

The current solution to Utah’s prison overcrowding problem is to contract out state inmates to twenty-one county jails. Usually, only rural counties are contracted because urban jails, like the one located in Salt Lake County, are overcrowded themselves and the state cannot afford their rental rates. A rural county jail typically receives $45 per day per state inmate.

Unfortunately, often the county jails are not prepared to provide the extra supervision these state inmates require. In 2007, two murderers escaped the Daggett County Jail through an unlocked door. Lack of oversight of state inmates in county jails threatens the safety of Utah’s citizens.

The average total number of state inmates in county jails is 1,225. The Department of Corrections recently asked for $1.4 million to increase the average to 1,265, but the extra money only allows the Department of Corrections to keep its head above water until the next legislative session, beginning in January.

If a state prison is overcrowded for more than 45 days in a row, it is required by law to release inmates. The state does not consider all inmates for release. Level one and level two inmates (death row inmates or those convicted of serious sex offenses, for example), are not released, but level five inmates are not considered behavioral threats and are good candidates for release if a state prison is in dire straits.

The Department of Corrections is brainstorming several long-term solutions to the overcrowding problem, but all would require a lengthy planning process, one which the at-capacity prisons may not be able to withstand. One solution is to create a parole-violation center so violators are not put back into state prisons. Other solutions are to add two more buildings at the Gunnison facility, or increase funding for the jail-housing program. One solution that is not on the table: Housing male inmates in the female wings of state facilities. Corrections officials say that would be a logistical nightmare.

Until a solution is adopted, however, Utahns will have to tolerate an overcrowded prison system that may be putting them at risk.

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