Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Utah Corrections Chief Tom Patterson Finds "Systemic" Security Problems At Daggett County Jail

After the Utah Department of Corrections completed its investigation into security lapses at the Daggett County Jail from where convicted killers Juan Diaz-Arevalo and Danny Gallegos escaped, Corrections chief Tom Patterson characterized the security problems discovered as "systemic". Full story published in the Deseret Morning News.

On Tuesday October 2nd, 2007, Patterson traveled to Manila, UT to review the investigation results with county officials there. Inmates at the Daggett County Jail have been in lockdown since last week when convicted murderers Juan Diaz-Arevalo and Danny Gallegos slipped through an unlocked door, over a razor wire fence and into the mountains nearby.

Corrections officials have been tight-lipped about the Daggett jail's specific problems but said there were procedural, technological and staffing issues. The door used by inmates during the escape is electronically controlled but was not working. The deputy on duty that night was sick, and spent much of the shift in the bathroom. He has since resigned.

Patterson has laid down a series of timetables and requirements for the jail to improve before the inmate lockdown can be lifted. Because they deal with security, the corrections boss would not be specific about changes but called them significant. "We will be using our officers and staff to assist in helping make those implementations, even if it means temporarily assigning them to Daggett County," Patterson said. Patterson also stated that Daggett County officials have been quite cooperative and willing to accept the need for changes.

And Patterson has ordered a review of security at all 20 county jails with state contracts to house inmates, to be finished within 30 days. One other such review, of the Garfield County Jail in Panguitch, was completed on Monday. "The review went very, very well," Garfield County sheriff's spokeswoman Becki Bronson said. "Historically, the Garfield County Jail is known for having very few problems, and they welcome the state to inspect their facility."

But one other reason for their favorable review was their own recent experience with an escape. In August 2007, a state inmate serving time for manslaughter escaped from the Garfield County Jail while washing cars. Tam Nguyen, 30, was arrested hours later after leading police on a chase in neighboring Kane County. "The necessary corrections have been made, and we don't anticipate something like that happening again," Bronson said.

In December 2006, a Performance Audit of the Department of Corrections was prepared for the Utah State Legislature. This 107-page report identified a slew of problems, to include non-competitive salaries, favoritism by and towards certain management personnel, too many indiscretions going unpunished, insufficient training, misuse of official vehicles, and the need for more independence for the Internal Audit Bureau. Click HERE to view the report in PDF format.

Meanwhile, the wheels of justice continue to turn on the two escapees. Danny Gallegos, who was wounded in a gunfight during apprehension, has already been transported to University Hospital in Salt Lake City, where he remains in critical condition.

Juan Diaz-Arevalo, 27, appeared in court in Green River, WY on Tuesday morning and signed papers waiving extradition. He remains in the Sweetwater County Jail in Rock Springs until Utah officials return him to Salt Lake City before the end of the week.

Both Gallegos and Diaz-Arevalo will face second-degree felony escape charges filed in Manila's 8th District Court. Additional unspecified state charges could be filed as early as Wednesday. In addition, the Feds may file their own charges because there were guns involved.

To briefly recap the escape sequence, Diaz-Arevalo and Gallegos, after preparing for several weeks for their escape by accumulating food supplies from the jail commissary, climbed over a fence adjacent to the recreation area sometime after 2 P.M. on Saturday, September 22nd. Their absence was not discovered until 8 P.M. the same day. During the ensuing week, the convicted killers, benefiting from Gallegos' wilderness experience, hid out in the mountains until Saturday, September 29th. Running low on supplies, they broke into a retired Salt Lake City police officer's camper trailer about 14 miles from the jail. They tied up 79-year old Bill Johnson, stole his SUV, some camping supplies and weapons, and led police on a chase that ended in Rock Springs, where Gallegos was shot and Diaz-Arevalo arrested after a foot pursuit.

A second article published in the Salt Lake Tribune provides some in-depth perspective on the situation. Rural areas with limited population and income find it appealing to build a million-dollar correctional facility in the middle of nowhere, run it with a skeleton crew and take those state checks straight to the bank. The arrangement allows the state to house prisoners on the cheap - taking a 30 percent cut on the cost of locking them up in Draper or Gunnison. And the counties have a guaranteed source of income. It translates to $45 a day - or $1.3 million a year in Daggett County's case. Everyone's happy with the deal - until someone goes missing.

About one-fourth of the state's 6,500 inmates are housed in county jails. Some are assigned by judges; others, dangerous felons among them, are housed with the counties per contract with state Corrections managers. Gallegos and Diaz-Arevalo fell into the second category.

However, Utah Association of Counties Director Brent Gardner disputes the notion that housing state prisoners at the county level is a license for counties to print money. "They're not making money; they're losing money," Gardner says.

But still, prison contracts help rural Utah. For Daggett, seven out of 10 inmates come from the state. The math also works in San Juan County, where 64 of the jail's 70 beds are filled with state convicts. However you figure the numbers, those county jail budgets depend on state prisoners.

Daggett County, whose sole other claim to fame is as an entryway to the scenic Flaming Gorge Reservoir, could have chosen not to build a jail. Piute, Morgan and Wayne counties all have resisted the temptation, contracting with neighboring counties to house their prisoners. But Daggett's isolation and the potential income apparently outweighed the risks. Until now.

Commentary: With one-fourth of state prison inmates now farmed out among a multitude of county jails, now is the time to plan the construction of a third state facility. It doesn't have to be completed all at once; it can start out being an "honor work camp" for minimum security prisoners, then be expanded into a full-service facility over a period of time to accomodate the full range of prisoners.

The Department of Corrections shouldn't have to beg for funds every year. Keeping the most dangerous of the state's residents properly secure isn't a luxury; it's a necessity. If the money isn't immediately available, transfer it from more discretionary functions. Take school vouchers, for example. When Corrections is starved for resources, vouchers seem like a luxury by comparison. Vouchers would become less appealing if school districts would start operating schools in accordance with prevailing community standards instead of imposing an alien, elitist agenda from the top down. Discipline is a must. When students misbehave aboard a school bus, a school district shouldn't be apologizing to the students for disciplining them. Granting states more discretionary power over the implemetation and enforcement of the minimal-tolerance No Child Left Behind standards would also be quite helpful.

Necessities like public safety should always be optimally funded.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

It's true what Gardner says in that county jails lose money on state prisoners--the jail reimbursement funding issue is one that the Legislature has quietly ignored for many, many years. In 2005-06 the State wasn't even paying what it the full 70 percent because of a shortfall. Earlier this year, however, the Legislature eliminted the hottly disputed "core rate" (HB 438), and agreed to pay the counties 70 percent of what it costs to house them in State facilities. However, as a general rule it still falls short of what it actually costs the counties to house prisoners. Each county is different, but in Utah County, for example, it costs $61/day to house a prisoner. It costs the State $68/day. So, Utah County, gets $47.60/day, leaving them $13.40/day short. Since they haven't figured out how to grow money on trees in Utah County yet, that means something else has to lose funding or be reduced to make up for the difference. So actually, NO, counties are NOT "happy with the deal" as you say.

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