The Department of Corrections has spent more than $1.3 million upgrading a section of its aging Wasatch Unit that inmates cannot occupy because of a pending suit on whether the cells are large enough to accommodate double bunking.
DOC Director Gary DeLand said Monday during a media tour of the prison that the suit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of inmate Thomas Humphries does not address the time the inmates spend inside their cells.The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that double bunking is permissible, but DeLand says recent decisions speak to the time inmates spend in their cell and the programs in which they may participate, not necessarily the size of each cell.
"To focus as the ACLU has on cell size is to miss the point," DeLand said.
The cells in the newly remodeled D Block, which DeLand intends to double bunk, are approximately 60 square feet in size. The cell block has three decks of 32 cells each and a new shower, commons and recreation facilities. Recent case law indicates that 63 square feet is adequate for double bunking arrangements, he said.
The inmates who were scheduled to be moved to D Block are being housed temporarily in the prison's A Block, one of the oldest areas of the complex. None of the A Block prisoners is sharing a cell, South Point Warden Eldon Barnes said.
Cells in the old block, constructed in the late 1930s, each face a catwalk and are enclosed with bars instead of metal doors used in modern prison construction.
The antiquated design of the cells pose security problems for staff and inmates, DeLand said. "My preference is we never occupy this area again as a full-time holding unit," he said.
DeLand said 80 to 90 percent of the prison's inmates are double bunked.
Despite the ACLU's claims that double bunking can lead to increased aggression, DeLand says the incidence of inmate violence has decreased since the DOC has enhanced its use.
"We have way more problems in single bunking, but of course you have inmates who are harder to get along with," DeLand said.
Monday's media visit came on the heels of a tour prison officials conducted Sunday for ALCU officials. DeLand said he conducted the press tour so members of the media could judge for themselves the prison conditions.
ACLU acting executive director Michele Parish-Pixler was critical of the tour, charging that corrections officials would not allow ACLU officials to tour certain areas of the prison, talk to inmates or staff.
At one point, U.S. Magistrate Ronald Boyce was contacted because the tour was not being conducted as the parties agreed in open court, Parish-Pixler said.
Scott McAllister, inspector general for corrections, said Parish-Pixler's criticisms of the tour are not valid.
The tour was set up to allow ACLU to examine D Block and any other facilities directly related to the double bunking issue, McCallister said.
ACLU officials asked to see the inmate laundry, kitchen and another block not outlined in the inmate suit pending in U.S. District Court.
Parish-Pixler said ACLU representatives intend to return to the prison.
"We got through some of the areas. We did get the kitchen done. We didn't get through the laundry. We didn't get to do some of the tests that needed to be done," she said.
McCallister said the ACLU could obtain administrative information through the judicial discovery process.
"We don't want you getting the inmates all stirred up while we're doing this stuff," McCallister said of prohibiting inmate contact.
He characterized Sunday's tour as a fishing trip. "The ACLU does not know where it's lawsuit is going," he said.