A group of citizens troubled by problems in Utah's prisons - problems they blame on Corrections Director Gary DeLand - isconcerned that Gov. Norm Bangerter may "rubber stamp" DeLand's choice of his successor.

To prevent that from happening, the group wants Bangerter to appoint an advisory committee to conduct a nationwide search for DeLand's replacement.The group, Citizens for Penal Reform Inc., sent Bangerter a letter Friday urging him to create the committee to help him select a new director when DeLand resigns.

DeLand told the media in November that he planned to leave his post as executive director of the Utah Department of Corrections "within a year or so." Bangerter appointed him to the post in 1985 and has supported him through a series of crises and negative publicity.

The Feb. 15 letter acknowledged Bangerter's support for DeLand, but it went on to outline a series of penal problems that had worsened under DeLand's leadership.

"Apparently Mr. DeLand has chosen his successor, and it seems to be the conventional wisdom that you will rubber-stamp Mr. DeLand's decision," the letter to Bangerter said

Bangerter has not seen the letter, said Budd Scruggs, Bangerter's chief of staff. "The group sounds like a front group for the ACLU. Their disagreements with Mr. DeLand have been long-professed and well-publicized."

DeLand hired New Mexico Corrections Superintendent Lane McCoter in November to serve as the department's Division of Administrative Services director. McCoter was rumored to be hired as DeLand's replacement. DeLand fueled the rumors by announcing his plans to resign shortlyafter hiring McCoter.

The group told Bangerter that appointing McCoter as DeLand's replacement would be a disservice to Utah and urged him to conduct a nationwide search instead.

"Mr. DeLand will not pick his successor," Scruggs said. "The governor will make the selection."

Asked if Bangerter would conduct a search for DeLand's replacement, Scruggs said, "We have not decided on the process yet. The process will not be dictated by Mr. DeLand or the ACLU."

A nationwide search would assure Utahns that "the best applicants have been considered and that the very serious failings in the Department of Corrections under Mr. DeLand's administration will be addressed," the letter said.

"Since Mr. DeLand took over leadership of the Department of Corrections, the state of Utah has been faced with a barrage of lawsuits relating to poor conditions at the prison," it said.

Incarceration rate in Utah has more than doubled from 69 per 100,000 people in 1980 to 159 per 100,000 in 1990. "The word `corrections' has been a misnomer when used in connection with Utah's prison system. Mr. DeLand has repeatedly maintained that rehabilitation efforts are simply a waste of money, contrary to what has been demonstrated elsewhere," the letter said.

"The Department of Corrections has failed to utilize any of the community work programs, job placement programs and restitution programs that have been proven to work in so many other states and countries."

The citizens group is led by several prominent Utahns including Ross C. Anderson, M. Walker Wallace, Virginia Albo, Dr. Willem Kolff, Norman C. Tanner, Edwin Firmage and Allan L. Sullivan.

The letter implied that Bangerter did a poor job in selecting DeLand as corrections director. "Mr. DeLand came to his job as a jailer; he did not have any substantial experience in the area of corrections. His treatment of the mentally ill while in charge of the Salt Lake County Jail was notorious," the letter said.

Attached to the letter was a 1981 ruling by the United States 10th Circuit Court of Appeals against DeLand, who then served as supervisor of the Salt Lake City/County Jail.

The ruling said DeLand violated a mentally ill prisoner's constitutional rights when he had him incarcerated in a strip cell for 56 days prior to the prisoner's trial for bizarre public conduct. The court found that prison conditions - no windows, lights, bed, floor covering or toilet - constituted punishment.

The court noted that the prisoner was stripped, given no bedding and forced to sleep naked on a concrete floor for nearly two months in a cell tainted with human excrement.