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AGENCY IN DARK ON APPROPRIATION

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Between a rock and a hard place, Lane McCotter said he wants to do what the Legislature intended when it allocated the Department of Corrections $90,000 last year, but he said he's having a hard time deciding just what was intended.

During the 1993 session, legislators gave the department the money to contract with a private provider "for inmate pre-release and post-release services." Some lawmakers believe a request for proposal written and used by the department for that contract doesn't capture their intentions.The problem with the request for proposal is that it asks a private provider to assess an inmate's needs, employment opportunities, family support, etc. Several members of the Legislature said they wanted the emphasis on providing services, not assessing inmates.

But the current problem really began two years ago in the 1992 session, when Sen. Haven Barlow, R-Layton, spoke to the Executive Offices, Courts Corrections and Legislature Appropriations Committee about a program called Exodus.

Barlow, who's retiring from the Legislature this year, said he has no connection to the Exodus program except that he likes what they do.

"I've been accused of trying to protect a good friend of mine (Exodus Executive Director Joseph Gasser)," Barlow said. "That's ludicrous. I'm just impressed with the services they render."

A volunteer at the prison, Barlow was most impressed with the fact that Exodus used an small army of volunteers to offer offenders support both before and after inmates are released from prison.

So in 1992, Barlow went before a legislative committee and asked them to give the department $40,000 to help fund the Exodus program.

McCotter told that same committee that he didn't know what to do with the money or how to do it.

"We'd never had money appropriated to a specific program before," McCotter said. "We sought guidance, and we really got no guidance."

So as it is required to do by law, the department wrote and published a request for proposal for a private provider willing to assess an inmate's needs, etc. Barlow interceded and said the Legislature intended that money go directly to Exodus. The Legislature decided to give Exodus a grant to get around the bidding process mandated by law for all public agencies.

Then in 1993, to avoid the pitfalls of the year before, the Legislature appropriated $90,000 to the department for services similar to those provided by Exodus. The department submitted the same request for proposal it wrote the year before and got four bidders. Valley Mental Health was awarded the contract, which sparked another bout concerning what the Legislature intended.

The problem arose over the use of the word "assess" instead of "provide services." The request for proposal asked a private provider to assess inmates' needs, family support, etc. Several legislators said they wanted a private provider to provide assistance to inmates in fulfilling those needs.

"The request for proposal in my opinion doesn't really meet the intent of the Legislature," Barlow said. "In my opinion, it was not properly done. Exodus has nothing to do with evaluation."

Barlow said he and other legislators assumed that Exodus would get the money because no one was aware of any other private organization that provided similar services to inmates.

Members of the Executive Offices, Courts and Corrections Legislative Appropriations Committee were split on what they intended and whether the department was fulfilling those intentions with this year's request for proposal.

"We don't need assessment," said Rep. Allan Rushton, D-Salt Lake. "This person has been in prison and assessed almost daily . . . They need services."

The committee voted unanimously to approve the award to Valley Mental Health with the stipulation that in negotiating the contract the department insist there is an emphasis on services to inmates.