The Utah Department of Corrections is "a secure prison system that protects the public, prison staff and inmates," according to a performance audit ordered by lawmakers last year in response to allegations of mismanagement.
That was the finding released late Monday to the Legislature's audit subcommittee by Legislative Auditor General Wayne Welsh. But the 96-page report also included a number of areas that could be improved.Subcommittee members praised Corrections Department Director Gary DeLand and said the report should silence most of the critics and reassure the public that the prison system is being run properly.
"You can't be perfect in everything. We appreciate what you have done," Sen. Dix McMullin, R-South Jordan, told DeLand during the half-hour of the meeting spent on the audit.
"It's not as it was originally tried in the press," said the newly selected House Speaker Craig Moody, R-Sandy, attributing the allegations that surfaced last year to "personality problems."
After the meeting, Moody said DeLand deserves an apology from his critics. The most vocal complaints about the way the prison system is run came from the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah.
Michele Parish-Pixler, the executive director of the ACLU in Utah, was not available for comment Monday night. Concerns raised by her and others had led Sen. Kay Cornaby, R-Salt Lake, to call for the audit.
Even Gov. Norm Bangerter talked briefly of commissioning an audit by national prison experts before nominating a replacement for DeLand, who has said he intends to step down as soon as next fall. Bangerter, however, decided the project would likely duplicate the legislative audit.
None of the controversy surrounding the audit was evident during the Monday meeting, attending by only a handful of Corrections Department officials, legislative auditors and other state officials and reporters.
Welsh briefly described his findings, which included the suggestion that the Legislature consider shifting some of the money now being spent on security to providing more programs to inmates.
The audit stated that education, employment and treatment programs have not increased as rapidly as the inmate population, leaving about half of the prisoners idle.
Questions were also raised about the department's personnel policies, noting that more than 300 of the 1,500 Utahns employed by the prison system are related.
Although Welsh told the subcommittee there were apparently no violations of the state's policy against nepotism, there is the perception that some hiring decisions are not fair.
Problems were also cited in the department's training center. Auditors could not prove that participants are taking enough hours of course work to qualify for certification.
DeLand, who described the audit as fair and accurate, told the subcommittee the auditors "found some things we're not happy with and we intend to fix those."
DeLand said his emphasis has been on security "but we do need to do more in the programming area. There's no question about that."
DeLand said not enough money is being spent on security now, saying he cannot afford to operate three of the six guard towers at the Point of the Mountain facility.
The audit was the third the Legislative Auditor General's office did at the prison this year. Two earlier audits dealt with specific questions raised by Cornaby about legal services and savings opportunities provided to inmates.