Utah's prisons are so crowded, Corrections officials plan to send 100 inmates to Texas until new facilities are built - and it will cost less than keeping them here.
Gov. Mike Leavitt told the Deseret News Editorial Board Tuesday that the state is negotiating the move because it gives the state another option.The move is tentatively scheduled for the first week in May. The Utah inmates will remain in Texas for 1 to 11/2 years. Texas will pay the cost of transporting the prisoners.
Housing the inmates in the Texas jail will cost less than keeping them in Utah prison facilities, said Corrections spokesman Jack Ford.
"It will cost us between $38 and $40 per day, which is really cheaper than what it costs us here," Ford said. Housing a prisoner in Utah costs about $60 per day.
Some of the cost savings is due to the difference in facilities, Ford said. The Utah prison bed cost is an average cost, with minimum security beds being less expensive and maximum security beds being more expensive. The cost for both the Texas beds and Utah prison beds includes treatment and medical expenses.
The move comes after several months of near crisis crowding for the department. Just last week, the department released nearly 100 inmates on Tuesday and within two days was already over capacity by another 100 inmates, Ford said.
In addition to filling every available bed in state facilities, officials have filled any available bed in the state's county jails. The cost to house an inmate in a county jail is $35, but that doesn't include medical or treatment costs, Ford said.Both Leavitt and Corrections officials say they'll keep inmates' families in mind when choosing who goes to Texas.
"We'll make those selections as carefully as we can, but we're not left with a lot of options," Leavitt said.
Ford said the prison is screening inmates right now to see who might go to the Texas jail. Officials will look for inmates who don't have court or Board of Pardons hearings and will look for inmates who have little or no family support in the state.
Ford said officials may look at those who want to go, but most inmates prefer to be in a prison rather than a county jail. Jail time is harder for most inmates because there are no opportunities to earn money, exercise outside or participate in programming.
"They don't have the space or recreational opportunities (in jails) that they have in a prison setting," Ford said. "People who like to go to county jails are often those who need protection."
Corrections will not send "level one or two" inmates, those considered the most dangerous or most problematic. They also won't send those with chronic medical or mental problems.
"We're not going to send them all the problem inmates we have," Ford said.
The negotiations are being finalized between Utah and a private company, Dove Development Corp., which runs the municipally built jail, Ford said. The company will fly a plane to Utah and take the inmates to the jail located in southwest Texas.
Corrections officials will leave them there even after the prison's pre-release center (240 beds) and the Sevier County Jail (50 beds) open this summer so they can remodel an older section of the prison.