Utah State Prison officials have not yet decided whether to appeal a federal court decision handed down this week that would force them to allow Indian inmates to use sweat lodges for religious purposes.
But even if the ruling Thursday by U.S. District Judge Thomas Greene is not challenged by the state, it could be some time before a structure is available for inmates to use.Gov. Norm Bangerter hinted Friday that the state will not appeal.
Bangerter said that he would prefer to allow the sweat lodges to be used and see if problems develop before continuing the fight. The state has 20 days to challenge the decision once a written opinion is issued.
Procedures for using the traditional retreats would have to be drafted, according to Scott McAlister, inspector general for the Utah Department of Corrections, a process he said is likely to take several months.
An attorney for the Indian inmates during the two-year court battle over the Corrections Department ban on sweat lodges said he expects them to be in use at the Draper prison by the end of April.
"This whole matter shouldn't take any longer than it already has," said Danny Quintana, who represented six Indian inmates seeking to practice a ceremony that involves sweating inside a temporary canvas and pole shelter.
During the ceremony, several inmates would join a religious leader within the sweat lodge. Rocks would be heated outside the structure, then brought in and doused with water to create steam.
While sweating, inmates would recite prayers and smoke a ceremonial pipe stuffed with non-hallucinogenic grasses and herbs. Such ceremonies are permitted in prisons in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Idaho, Wyoming and Washington.
McAlister said the Corrections Department would need time to determine the safest way to set up the sweat lodges. The department's contention all along has been that they are a threat to security.
As an example of what would need to be done before the sweat lodges could be used, he cited obtaining security clearance for the religious leaders who would visit the prison to conduct the ceremony.
"Building a sweat lodge is the least of the problems," McAlister said. "It's when people start to use them that the problems start."
Quintana said such concerns could be quickly addressed. He said there should be no reason that Indian religious leaders would be denied security clearance and that procedures used by other states could be used as models for Utah.
Another attorney who represented the Indian inmates, Gary Montana, said he would be watching closely to see how long the state takes to develop a plan for the use of sweat lodges.
"Some of that is reasonable," Montana said of the concerns raised by McAlister. "If it's done in bad faith because they're angry over the way the court ruled - I would not like that."