Depending on who you believe, prisoners at the Utah State Prison:
a) live crammed in tiny cells with inadequate ventilation and sanitation orb) they spend their days wandering about the pastoral prison, pressing weights in the gym, reading in the library and occasionally playing racquetball.
Attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union and the state painted widely divergent pictures of the prison Friday in closing arguments over the ACLU's suit to prevent the prison from double-bunking prisoners. The closing arguments before U.S. Magistrate Ronald Boyce come after several months of intermittent hearings.
The state accused the ACLU of ulterior motives in bringing the suit. Allan L. Larsen, attorney for the state, said the ACLU wants the prison to make programs and "rehabilitation, if there is such a thing" its top priority instead of the safety of the community.
Boyce noted that the prison cannot make the community's safety a top priority at the expense of the Constitution.
"The state can lock up as many people as it wishes," Boyce said. "The concern is whether the conditions at the prison meet constitutional standards. If they don't, the state's interest in the safety and security of the community is irrelevant. The state cannot ensure the safety of the community in violation of the Constitution any more than the state can do illegal searches."
The ACLU said double bunking at the state prison violates prison standards set by the American Medical Association, the National Sheriff's Association and the American Corrections Association.
"The Wasatch Unit does not meet many minimum standards for one inmate per cell," said ACLU attorney Steve Russell. To put two prisoners in cells smaller than a "good-size closet" constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, violating the Eight Amendment, said Russell.
Larsen disagreed, calling the problems the ACLU found at the prison "a laundry list of trivial housekeeping problems."
Larsen said, "These cells, while admittedly relatively small, are only required to be occupied between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. when presumably the prisoners are there to sleep. The picture the ACLU paints of two inmates jammed into a cell for hours and hours on end is a false picture."
Larsen asked Boyce to throw out the ACLU suit. Boyce offered to set guidelines for double-bunking at the prison should he determine that the state could go ahead with double-bunking.
Larsen objected, saying the ACLU might view such guidelines as a victory and demand that the state pay its legal fees.
About 20 inmates are currently double-bunked in the aging Wasatch Unit. The unit contains 290 cells. If additional bunks are put in all cells, another 290 inmates could be poured into the unit.
If the court allows double-bunking, the state plans to move prisoners from a deteriorating dormitory unit at the prison in the Wasatch Unit, then close the dormitory down.