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Utah could play a greater role as a regional stopover point for federal prisoners being transported through a national airlift program.

The U.S. Marshal Service is reviewing plans to use seven new twin-engine jets received from the Federal Aviation Administration. Salt Lake City is a proposed base for one of the jets.Eugene Davis, U.S. marshal for the District of Utah, said approval of the plan could increase the number of federal prisoners and witnesses coming through the Utah office.

The General Services Administration recently allocated seven North American Sabreliner twin-engine jets to the U.S. Marshal Service in an effort to better use government resources, said C.J. Gray, commissioner of the GSA's federal supply service. The planes were purchased in the 1970s for $16 million. Modifications to the airplanes will allow them to carry up to 10 passengers each.

Plans call for two jets to be based at Oklahoma City and Scranton, Pa., and one each in Atlanta, Phoenix and Salt Lake City.

Salt Lake City is already a stopover point in the national airlift program. Prisoners are ferried around the country on two Boeing 727 jets. Once delivered to the stopover point, they are taken by ground transportation to their destination. Salt Lake City serves Montana, Idaho, Utah, eastern Washington and Oregon.

If one of the new planes is permanently stationed in Salt Lake City, the Utah district may also begin serving Wyoming and parts of South Dakota.

Davis said the planes will allowmore prisoners to be shuttled to their destinations by air rather than by the vans now being used.

Because the change is likely to increase the number of prisoners handled through the Salt Lake office, Davis said the Marshal Service is considering spending $1 million over the next two years to aid construction of local jail facilities that can be used by the service.

Davis said $600,000 will be spent this year if the facilities are approved, with another $400,000 to be spent next year. Davis would not identify the proposed sites for the facilities, saying he did not want to influence local decisions associated with those projects.

The agency contracts for space with the Salt Lake County Jail. Davis said crowding at the jail has forced his office to occasionally house prisoners in other nearby facilities. By helping fund new jail facilities, the federal government hopes to get space commitments from local officials.

The Sabreliners earlier were used by the FAA to flight-test electronic equipment.