Inmates at the Utah State Prison were moved into expanded new medium and maximum security facilities near the end of 1987. But the prison once again is bulging at the seams. It will be another two years before a 624-bed regional prison is finished at Gunnison.
It seems the prison system can hardly build fast enough to keep up with growth. This is true nationally, as well as locally. And jail facilities in Salt Lake County are no different.Yet there is a special danger to overcrowded jails and prisons. Once the system becomes full, what do you do with offenders? Courts in other states have ruled that prisoners must be released when conditions get too crowded.
As this page has pointed out before, Utah must keep pouring millions of dollars into its jails and prisons or judges may step in and start ordering inmates released.
That is not just an imaginary threat. Only this week in Philadelphia, the courts ordered 250 prisoners awaiting trial to be released on $250 bail within 24 hours and inmate levels kept below a certain ceiling. Dismayed prosecutors are crying that such an order makes it impossible to put drug dealers behind bars and will make criminals even bolder.
If anyone thinks that what happens in Pennsylvania won't necessarily happen in Utah, consider this fact: Utah ranks seventh on the list of states with the fastest growth in prison populations. Pennsylvania is ninth.
Overcrowding is not a problem that will go away. And while Utah has budget problems, taxpayers had better face up to the fact that the corrections system is going to continue to be expensive.