Audit blames Corrections for jail escapes

Last September’s Daggett County jailbreak is just one of five escapes that might have been prevented had the Department of Corrections properly managed a prison-sharing contract with county jails.
    That’s according to a new legislative audit that lambastes Corrections for, among other things, learning of security problems at the Daggett County Jail in 2000, but failing to correct them for seven years.
    During that time, five inmates escaped the jail – three in 2004 and two in a 2007 incident in which two convicted murderers walked out of an unlocked door, climbed a fence with no alarm and disappeared for five hours before anyone realized they were gone.
    Those two men were captured by Wyoming authorities after six days on the lam, but not before they bound a man with duct tape at knife point and stole his vehicle.
    Lawmakers on Wednesday morning heard an overview of the 60-page report, which ultimately recommends that Corrections repair its broken contract system, which houses state prisoners at county jails.
    The report points to five jailbreaks and three major operational issues over the past four years, which include an August 2007 Garfield County case in which an inmate convicted of manslaughter escaped by climbing into the storage bins of a school bus that was being washed at the jail.

No action has been taken by Corrections officials to address the improper search and supervision issues at the Garfield jail that led to the escape, according to the audit.
    The legislative audit quotes a Department of Corrections internal audit that acknowledges: “It appears poor contract standards and deficient oversight have become the accepted norm for doing business.”
    Additionally, before the three escapes in late 2007, Corrections had no standards about which inmates were eligible for the jail program.
    Now, first-degree felons are ineligible for the jail-sharing program, as well as inmates who have attempted an escape in the past five years and those who have been convicted of a loss-of-life crime.
    Although language in the audit unmistakably blames the Corrections contract process, House Speaker Greg Curtis, R-Sandy, defended the state, noting that jail operations are local government functions. He questioned whether counties would appreciate state officials showing up and telling them how to run their jails.
    “Do we need to change the statutes and tell counties how to operate their jails?” Curtis asked auditors.
    One auditor responded that the state could use contractual requirements to boost security at county jails. He said counties do not have to participate in the state’s prisoner-share program, and eight counties – including Salt Lake and Utah counties – are not part of the program.
    But Curtis said that if the state were to pull its prisoners from Beaver County, where 370 of 400 beds are occupied by state prisoners, it could bankrupt the county jail.
    “We would have to step in and either run or buy that facility,” Curtis said.
    Executive Director of Corrections Tom Patterson lauded the audit and said his department has been working to change many of the highlighted issues since he was appointed in January 2007. He said the state can cooperate with county governments without any statutory changes.
    “We’re all shooting for the same goal,” Patterson said. “Jointly, we can set minimum standards that could meet our expectations.”
    Patterson said the negative points brought to light in the report are indicative of transition. The audit indicates many of the problems were inherited by the current administration.
    As far as specific contractual fixes, the report calls on Corrections to implement performance measures and establish a grading criteria for county facilities. It also encourages better monitoring of county compliance and improved follow-up and enforcement strategies.
    A Corrections news release on Wednesday said the department agrees with every recommendation in the audit, and officials expect to complete the majority of the fixes before many of its contracts with various counties expire in 2009.

    Problems revealed by audit
    A Legislative audit blames eight security or operational problems since 2004 on the Department of Corrections’ inadequate management of jail contracts.
    * A state inmate, convicted of rape and kidnapping, escaped from Beaver County Jail in October 2007.
    * Two state inmates convicted of murder escaped from Daggett County Jail in September 2007.
    * A state inmate, convicted of manslaughter, escaped from Garfield County Jail in August 2007.
    * Washington County Jail staff sexually exploited two female state inmates over a five-year period. The violation was discovered in March 2006.
    * Three county inmates escaped from the Daggett County Jail in July 2004. The trio went through an unsecured kitchen door and over an unmonitored perimeter fence. One inmate returned with drugs, resulting in 11 state inmates obtaining and using methamphetamine.
    * A state inmate, convicted of aggravated robbery, escaped from the Duchesne County Jail in July 2004.
    * Multiple fire, life and safety violations in some county jails were repeatedly identified but not corrected.
    * A Corrections-mandated inmate-to-staff ratio was challenged by one county, and the vagueness of the jail contract did not allow Corrections to enforce its staff ratio.
    The Department of Corrections contracts with 21 counties to send 1,200 of its 6,500 state prisoners to community jails.
    The inmate-sharing effort is, in part, intended to free up beds at Utah State Prison facilities.
    Corrections has extra space available at its Draper and Gunnison facilities and is about to expand its capacity. But Corrections continues to participate in inmate sharing, it says, to bolster the financial security of county jails.
    During the 2008 session, legislators gave Corrections $24 million for its 2009 fiscal year.
    The state pays $45 per prisoner each day to house inmates in county facilities, compared with $70 at state prison facilities. That means the state is saving $30,000 per day through the jail contracting program.



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