ROOSEVELT Duchesne County commissioners have decided that a burst sewer pipe at the county's aging jail and other structural problems will prevent the facility from ever reopening its doors to inmates.
The Duchesne County Sheriff's Office moved prisoners being held in the old jail to its larger, more modern facility on the bench north of Duchesne earlier this month following the latest sewer problem. The moved temporarily wedged 180 bodies into just 160 bed spaces.
With the county's corrections system short four officers, the closure of the old jail came as an administrative relief.
"We'll have another person per shift on the hill, which we needed anyway because we're understaffed," said Duchesne County Chief Deputy David Boren.
A decision by the Utah Department of Corrections to remove all state prisoners convicted of first-degree felonies from county jails also eased the staffing crisis. The move by the state came after two convicted murderers escaped from the undermanned and poorly secured Daggett County Jail in late September.
Lt. Keith Hansen, Duchesne County's jail commander, said sending some of the state inmates back to the prison has opened up more beds for new arrests and commitments.
"If someone gets arrested, we still have room for them, but if there was a riot we'd be in trouble," Hansen said. "We'd have to call on our neighbors to the east of us in Uintah County (for bed space)."
The old jail facility had 50 beds that had been used for county and tribal detainees only. Boren said those inmates will still be housed separately from state prisoners at the new facility.
Still, with the wiggle room now all but gone, county commissioners and sheriff's officials are looking at ways to quickly add bed space to their only remaining jail. And while replacing the sewer pipe in the old jail would be a quick fix, with three line breakdowns in the past year, no one is confident the repair would last.
"Based on the condition of the sewer line and a lot of other ongoing problems, we're going to close (the jail) down ... it probably won't be opened again as a jail facility. It might eventually be used for some other function," said Duchesne County Commission Chairman Kent Peatross.
Sheriff Travis Mitchell has proposed "putting a lid" on the new jail's walled but unroofed outdoor exercise area, adding plumbing and turning it into a dormitory-style housing area that would hold about 18 beds.
Mitchell said there is no state mandate to have an outdoor exercise area, though exercise is important for inmate management reasons. He suggested adding additional fencing, razor wire and surveillance cameras outside the facility to quickly create another exercise area.
Despite consolidating the two jails, the sheriff's office is still hoping to hire four corrections officers to bring its certified staff from 21 to 25. Boren said no one has applied for the jail openings.
"It's tough for two reasons," Boren said. "We're competing with the oil fields, and either people want to be (corrections officers) or they don't."Duchesne County jail officers who aren't certified through the state corrections academy are paid $13.50 an hour. After certification they receive $14.50 an hour with regular merit increases.