Inmates pulled from county jails and returned to state prisons may find themselves sleeping on cots.

That's because the Utah Department of Corrections is running short on beds, and an expansion of the prison facility in Gunnison is almost a year behind schedule.

"It's a bit of a juggling act for us," corrections director Tom Patterson told the Deseret Morning News on Tuesday.

Right now, corrections is approximately 210 beds away from its maximum capacity. That includes beds at the Utah state prisons at Draper and Gunnison and beds in contracted prisons outside the state, as well as county jails.

With the Utah Department of Corrections' announcement that up to 300 of its most violent inmates being housed in county jails will be returned to the prisons, it has the potential to create a bed-space shortage until lesser-risk offenders can be swapped out.

"We're having some difficulties," Patterson said. "We may have to make some adjustments in bunking, depending on whether or not we can replace inmate for inmate. We may have to put out cots for a short period of time."

A new, 288-bed facility being built at the Central Utah Correctional Facility in Gunnison is almost a year behind schedule, forcing corrections to run over its operational capacity.

"It's been deplorable the delays that this particular contractor has put us through," Patterson said.

A man who answered the phone at Gunnison-based Valley Builders, which has the contract to build the facility, declined to speak to the Deseret Morning News about the situation.

Reports prepared by the state Division of Facilities Construction and Management indicate the $14.6 million facility has faced a slew of problems.

"Some delay in precast walls attributed to drawing conflicts and poor shop drawing support. Result is lost time," an executive summary report said on June 1, 2006. "Contractor working on schedule to accelerate."

A month later, there was another delay that set construction back five to six weeks. For the next few months, the report revealed even more delays. By November 2006, state officials wrote that work appeared to be on pace.

A month later, it slowed again.

"Valley continues to battle the schedule without being able to predict a completion date," the Dec. 1, 2006, entry said.

Cold weather delayed things even more, and by April 2007, the state had started to use inmate labor to do painting and other parts of the project.

"Housing work progressing, some areas being painted," a May 1 entry said. "Valley's inability to get the kitchen freezer work done along with the rest of the project is causing concern to CUCF. More pressure is being applied to get the job done."

By August, the state said the contractor expected to have the project substantially completed by Sept. 1. The latest entry in the project's executive summary said that, as of Oct. 1, the Gunnison prison had started taking over cleaning operations from the contractor.

Division of Facilities and Construction Management director Greg Buxton said that, like contractors all over the state, Valley Builders has struggled to find workers.

"He's stretched very thin," Buxton said Tuesday. "He's got several jobs."

But state officials said that doesn't excuse the delays. With the contractor behind schedule, the state Department of Administrative Services has started assessing a $1,000 a day penalty. With more than 11 months in delays, state officials said that assessment is now more than $300,000.

"This is a top priority for our department and DFCM," said administrative services executive director Kimberly Hood.

Corrections officials now hope to have the 288-bed expansion finally open by December. The contractor has told DFCM officials it likely will be the end of December.

A separate 192-bed expansion at the Gunnison prison is now 50 percent complete and on schedule.

The Utah Department of Corrections announced Monday that it would return up to 300 of its most violent inmates back to the prisons, in response to a series of recent escapes.

In September, convicted killers Danny Gallegos and Juan Diaz-Arevalo escaped from the Daggett County Jail. The two men spent six days on the run along the Utah-Wyoming border before their capture.

On Sunday, Joshua Brian Whallon, a convicted rapist and kidnapper, managed to scale a razor-wire fence at the Beaver County Jail. He was on the run for several hours before being captured.

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