In the aftermath of a series of escapes, the Utah Department of Corrections is trying to figure out how to provide therapy and other programs to inmates shuffled between state prisons and county jails.
"The first thing was to ensure the public safety and making sure we minimized the level of violent offenders in county jails," corrections chief Tom Patterson told the Deseret Morning News Tuesday. "Phase two is the fallout from phase one."
In September, convicted killers Danny Gallegos and Juan Diaz-Arevalo escaped from the Daggett County Jail. The two were captured six days later in Wyoming. In late October, convicted rapist Joshua Whallon escaped from the Beaver County Jail before being captured several hours later.
Those escapes prompted Patterson to yank 307 first-degree felons and violent offenders from the county jails and return them to the state prisons in Draper and Gunnison. Only 282 lesser-risk inmates have been placed in county jails.
The shuffling of inmates has left some court-ordered programming, therapy and rehabilitation up in the air. Particularly, corrections staff said substance abuse, sex offender treatment and education courses have been affected.
More than 110 inmates were moved from substance abuse therapy programs at the state prisons to be placed in county jails. Therapists are now trying to figure out which ones are almost finished with their treatment, and who will need to come back to prison to finish therapy. As many as 54 inmates also were interrupted in their efforts to complete school educations and may not be able to resume until January 2008.
Patterson is unapologetic about that.
"I don't want to minimize the concern that has been to inmates, but it is secondary to public safety and always will be," he said.
He said one way of getting more inmates back into the prisons to complete their programming may be to "warehouse" illegal immigrant inmates in county jails while they serve time for other crimes, freeing up bed space at Draper and Gunnison.
Patterson also is looking to expand programming options within the county jails.
"We have to get inmates that are in the county jails those programming opportunities," he said.
For example, Beaver County and San Juan County offer touted drug offender and sex offender treatments, respectively. Corrections officials said as many as 14 inmates were taken from the prison's sex offender treatment program and placed in county jails. Of the 12 county jail inmates pulled back to prison, nine are now resuming their treatment and three are in transition, the department said.
The decision to pull first-degree felons and violent offenders from the county jails has upset many Utah sheriffs, who say they were never consulted about corrections' "edicts" and are having to deal with the fallout.
Recently, Washington County Sheriff Kirk Smith told the Deseret Morning News that of the 50 or so inmates he was allowed to place in the Purgatory Jail, only four met his criteria.
"We manage our facilities well, and to be told by the Department of Corrections that you can do this and you can't do that, it's got everybody riled up," he said in a November interview.
Patterson has pledged greater cooperation and said Tuesday those efforts are ongoing."Some of that will take some time," he said. "We're making great strides with the sheriffs, and we're planning and coordinating with them."