Prisons release robbers, rapists and molesters to roam Utah streets. Crime rates soar. Insurance rates soar. Courts are flooded with the same faces time and again.It's not some hypothetical threat about what might happen if Utah prisons are forced to cut their budgets, says Gary DeLand, executive director of the Department of Corrections.

It's a simple mathematical reality.

"I don't want to be an alarmist. I don't want to parade a list of horribles. But you asked me and I told you: Less money means putting more people on the streets that should be locked up," DeLand said.

But if the tax initiatives should pass, all departments in state government would face huge budget cuts - about 13 percent across the board. The state Office of Planning and Budget has asked state agencies to prepare budgets reflecting a 13 percent funding cut, just in case the initiatives pass.

Greg Beesley, chairman of the Utah Tax Limitation Coalition, gets angry when he hears DeLand's threatening statements - statements he said are nothing more than scare tactics to frighten the public into opposing the tax limitation initiatives.

"There is no operation that can't be improved upon," Beesley said, "and if you were to go through and audit Gary's department you could pick up the slack he's groaning about."

Beesley said the Department of Corrections is better than most state bureaucracies in terms of managing its revenues, but it could be better. In fact, as much as 25 to 40 percent could be saved through better management and by cutting waste, Beesley said.

"I have friends in the system who say a lot of waste is going out the back door," Beesley said. "It can be done better."

"I invite anyone to come out here and show me how to get more bang for the buck than what we're getting," DeLand said.

The Department of Corrections has made strides in recent years to design prisons where fewer staff can safely supervise inmates. The result has been a $40 per day per inmate cost, one of the lowest cost ratios anywhere in the nation.

The problem has been soaring prison populations, despite the fact Utah has one of the lowest incarceration rates in the nation. There are more than twice as many inmates incarcerated this year than there were in 1980.

Meeting growing demand for prison beds is so critical that the Department of Corrections is not looking to cut its budget. Instead, it needs about $12 million more to staff and operate the new Gunnison prison now under construction.

Unlike other state departments, the state Office of Planning and Budget has not asked the Department of Corrections to prepare a budget representing a 13 percent revenue cut - about $7 million in this case.

It's not a matter of whether the Department of Corrections can take cuts. Rather it's a matter of what level of incarceration the public expects from its prisons and which inmates it wants behind bars, said DeLand.

"We can cut forever. We can cut the budget down to $7.46, but that's exactly what the public will get: $7.46 in return."

The department is preparing a budget broken down into $1 million building blocks. It will then be up to the legislature to choose how many blocks will be cut from the budget and how many inmates will be released into society.

Currently, the Department of Corrections is operating on a $53.9 million budget.

"It will be a financial, pragmatic decision," DeLand said. "We can house only `x' number of prisoners with `x' number of dollars. Bottom line."

Unlike other state departments, the Department of Corrections is subject to federal court orders on the number of inmates that can be housed in given prison blocks. Those court orders also specify the ratio of inmates to prison staff.

Because the predominant item in the prison budget is personnel, any budget cut will translate into staff cuts. As the staff is cut, the number of inmates must also be reduced to maintain the mandatory staff-inmate ratio.

"It's not like we can cut our staff and still house the same number of inmates," DeLand said. "If we cut our staff, we have to put more felons on probation and parole. If we lose 25 staff, we close A Block. We lose 18 staff, we close D block. We just have to close them down."

DeLand warned that the inmates that would be released to parole or probation are not good candidates. Only the worst of Utah felons are ever incarcerated in the first place.

And the chances of those inmates receiving proper supervision once on parole are poor. Adult Parole and Probation officers are already supervising 40-100 inmates each. Massive inmate releases would probably increase case loads 50 to 100 percent.

Cutting treatment programs, like drug and sex offender therapy, is not an option, DeLand said. Most prison programs were cut significantly, some completely, in 1986-87, and many of those have not been reinstituted. Some programs are court-ordered and cannot be totally eliminated.