UTAH STATE PRISON — Up to 300 state inmates housed in county jails could be returned to the prisons in the aftermath of a series of escapes.

The Utah Department of Corrections has ordered its most violent inmates to be yanked from the county jails. They are serving time for aggravated offenses, like kidnapping and sexual assault.

It comes after a convicted rapist and kidnapper escaped from the Beaver County Jail on Sunday. Joshua Brian Whallon, 21, scaled a razor-wire fence and dropped 20 feet to freedom. Whallon was on the run for about seven hours until he was captured about 10 miles from the jail.

Corrections chief Tom Patterson told the Deseret Morning News that plans have been in the works since two convicted killers escaped from the Daggett County Jail on Sept. 23.

"We got all our murderers out from the county jails," Patterson said Monday. "We should have the next phase done within the next week."

At least 100 inmates will be removed from the county jails by the end of this week. Patterson said up to 300 could be pulled from county jails over the next two weeks.

"It's swapping," Patterson said. He said the goal is to eventually replace the more violent prisoners now housed in county jails with lower risk inmates from the prisons.

"It was one of the recommendations from that review of county facilities," said Lisa Roskelley, a spokeswoman for Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. "The governor certainly supports it."

Speaking to the Deseret Morning News editorial board last week, Patterson said that if he had his way, all state inmates would never be placed in county jails. However, that is not feasible given funding issues and bed space shortages.

A series of escapes has proved somewhat embarrassing for corrections officials, but Patterson said making reforms to policies and procedures takes time.

"As we systematically look at the problems that have occurred with corrections, we'll continue to see some of that fallout until we get it fully under way," he said.

Pulling out 100 violent inmates from county jails is just the beginning of a series of changes at the Department of Corrections.

The department is rolling out a series of new controls, including changes in what type of inmate is made available to be placed in a county jail. It is the county sheriffs who have the final say in what inmates are accepted at their jails.

"That's something that we're going to play a bigger hand in, is who we give an opportunity to," Patterson said.

The department recently completed a security review of all 21 county jails that the state contracts with. The review was ordered after convicted murderers Danny Gallegos and Juan Diaz-Arevalo escaped from the Daggett County Jail and were on the run for six days, until they were captured in Rock Springs, Wyo.

Corrections officials have said that all of the audited jails had security problems but none rose to the level of Daggett County's. The state pulled all of its inmates from the rural Utah jail after discovering cameras and doors weren't working properly, and one staff member was sick while on duty. Corrections officials have said a building within the jail yard had no security at all.

One of the jailers on duty resigned in the wake of the escapes.

The lapses enabled Gallegos and Diaz-Arevalo to walk out a door, scale a fence and run away.

The Daggett County Jail has been attempting to make changes after the escape. Officials are interviewing for a new jail commander and ordering security upgrades, corrections spokesman Jack Ford said Monday.

"They have ordered some of the required cameras, concertina wire," he said. "We're just waiting. As soon as they say they've got things taken care of, we're ready to put inmates back there. But we need to have a secure facility."

E-mail: bwinslow@desnews.com