SALT LAKE CITY — Members of the Utah Sheriff's Association visited the state Capitol Thursday to field legislators' questions about jail standards.
Steven White, Grand County sheriff and president of the association, said the presentation was meant to demonstrate the depth of the standards laid out for Utah jails and what counties in the state are doing to try and improve their jails.
"We want the public to know, we want the legislators to know, how much work and effort goes into the standards in the jail. The sheriffs take great pride, great responsibility to make sure … that we take care of the members of the public when they come into our facilities," White said.
White said the presentation came in response to concerns and criticisms raised about the state's jail standards, which are not available to the public.
"It's an educational thing. I think some of them didn't realize what we have in play, how long the standards have been in effect and what standards were in effect," White said.
The sheriff's association funds the program and counties participate voluntarily, White said. But the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah has called for the state to adopt independent inspections and to make jail standards transparent.
Gary DeLand, Utah Sheriff's Association director of jail training, wrote the standards are in use in Utah and about 19 other states he contracts with. DeLand, a former director of the Utah Department of Corrections, emphasized Thursday that the copyrighted standards are a product of his private business, and publishing them would lay his livelihood out before all of his competitors.
In a briefing following the presentation to legislators, the association demonstrated the website that makes the state's standards — more than 600 separate standards that have evolved over 22 years — keyword searchable, along with rationale and guidance for each one. A detailed history and a compliance meter is generated as jail officials log updates.
The standards are based on the legal requirements for jail operations based on state and federal law, not philosophical questions, DeLand said. As the law changes, so does the associated standard.
And because jails vary widely in Utah, ranging from small county facilities to Salt Lake County's larger jail, each one establishes its own policies to comply with the standards, DeLand said.Comment on this story
"We want all of the sheriffs to know exactly what is required of them so that they can then decide how they're going to accomplish that," DeLand said.
DeLand, along with sheriffs attending the briefing, defended jails' efforts to prevent suicide among those in custody and disputed the way in-custody suicide rates have been calculated.
"Utah has a suicide rate that is not quite double the national rate. So why would it be alarmingly surprising that you would also have more suicides in jail?" DeLand asked.