Parole violators pose an exasperating problem for a state prison system short on bed space and maxed out in treatment programs.

Lapses here and there like drug use, missing curfew or failing to check in don't usually warrant a trip back inside. Offenders must be deemed a risk to the public or themselves before they lose their parole.

"They're taking a bed inside the prison and yet we may not be fully addressing what caused them to return back to prison," said Tom Patterson, Utah Department of Corrections director.

Only the worst of the worst get a return trip to the Point of the Mountain or Gunnison prisons, said Brent Butcher, Adult Probation and Parole director.

Under a new corrections plan, many parole violators wouldn't be sent back to prison at all. Rather, they would go to a privately operated parole violation center the department hopes to build on the Wasatch Front.

Patterson included the $7.6 million project in the Corrections Department 2008-09 budget request to Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. last week. Corrections has already contracted with New Jersey-based Community Education Centers Inc. to build and manage the facility.

Moving forward depends on whether the state's Legislature funds the project during its 2008 session, which begins next month.

"My understanding is we have support for that," Patterson said.

Even if lawmakers provide the funds, Community Education Centers, or CEC, must obtain local approval to build in what company vice president Bill Palatucci called the "greater Salt Lake area."

"We have a couple of sites we're looking at. We haven't nailed that down yet. I don't want to get ahead of the real estate part of it," he said.

Palatucci, who said a location could be selected in a month, understands there could be opposition.

"It's always a bit of a challenge," he said. "But these are a little different types of offenders who have been in the community prior to their stay in the center and who are going back into the community anyway. Most community groups are OK with that."

CEC has treatment and education facilities in 22 states, including parole violation centers in Colorado, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

The length of stays in the center, which would open in 2009, would vary. Programs include behavior modification, drug and alcohol counseling, employability and self-improvement, Palatucci said. The proposal calls for the cost to not exceed $69 a day per offender. Prison inmates currently cost the state $70.35 a day.

The center would free up prison cells for more serious offenders and provide treatment programs aimed at rooting out the cause of their criminal behavior, Patterson said, adding he hopes it will reduce recidivism.

The probation violation center wouldn't be the prison's first foray into the private sector. A state budget shortfall in 2001 closed the Promontory Correctional Facility in Draper. Centerville-based Management & Training Corp. operated that building, which housed 240 inmates preparing for parole.

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