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New Corrections chief focusing on treatment

If Pete Haun feels the pressure of running one of the state's most controversial and fastest growing departments, he doesn't show it and he won't say it.

Instead, he said the "hope and expectation" that surge through the department are due to change, not him.Like his predecessor, Lane McCotter, Haun faces the daunting challenge of trying to manage the state's burgeoning prison population with dwindling resources.

That's about where the similarities end.

McCotter is a former military police officer who's spent his life working in corrections. He was unapologetic about the need for more prison beds due, in large part, to tougher sentencing laws and policies.

His five-year plan for the department depended largely on more beds.

Haun entered the world of corrections after being prepared for life as a teacher. He was recruited to work as a federal probation officer by a man who heard him speak.

Haun sees the answer to what's becoming a corrections crisis as a need to balance punishment with treatment. His five-year plan for the department depends largely on successful treatment programs.

He knows he might sound like a Pollyanna to some, but he said he speaks from experience.

"We only talk about the failures," he said. "I've seen people change."

Haun wants to avoid comparisons to McCotter, who he said built "a strong foundation" for him and his administration. But the two do the same job so differently that for most, it can't be helped.

Twenty-four years as a probation officer and nearly a decade on the Board of Pardons have taught Haun a lot about criminals. He said those who are able to turn their lives around have two things: a desire to change and the human help and support to do it.

Haun can't give them the desire, but he said he can give them the help. By doing so, he said he will save the state money. He also points to a reality that is often overlooked in "get tough talk" - 97 percent of those who go to prison will be released into society someday.

There doesn't appear to be much Haun hasn't considered since taking over the department in July. He's established or is working on a plan for nearly every major issue facing the department.

First, he plans to meet with employees and solicit their input in how to deal with problems. He calls those who work for the department his "greatest resource."

"We'd like them to believe they don't work for us, we work for them," he said. He said he worries they'll think that any emphasis on treatment will be seen as a trade-off for officer and employee safety.

Not so, he says promising officers will have the training, equipment and support they need. But he also wants them to know he believes they have a professional responsibility to help solve problems.

"My vision is subject to modification," he said. "The only way we're going to succeed, is with their help. . . . Their efforts are going to determine our success or our failure."

He also plans to create community groups that will offer ideas and feedback on prison programs.

He said he's already saved $27 million by scraping a plan to build a privately run women's facility. Instead, he said by opening some of the beds in the Promontory pre-release center to those having minor problems with probation instead of sending them back to prison, will free up prison beds for women.

He plans to move the women to a section of a medium-security facility, which will give women more work and education opportunities, and convert the women's prison into a forensic unit for mentally ill inmates. McCotter hoped to do the same with that building after moving the women to a facility built by the state but run by a private company.

It's a domino effect.

If the prison does a better job of assessing the needs of an inmate and then meeting those needs, then the inmates have a better chance of staying out of prison, thus reducing the need to keep building expensive prison beds.

Whether it will work remains to be seen, and Haun said he wants to see. He plans to keep tabs on every program and pour money and effort into what works and get rid of what doesn't.

He also said corrections will do more even before an offender comes to prison. He wants probation and parole agents who do reports before sentencing hearings to create what he calls "a case plan."

He said by doing an extensive write-up on a person's history, psychology and potential, a judge can better determine who will succeed in what programs. Haun also wants agents to give officials more options when it comes to dealing with an offender.

And not all offenders will have equal opportunity for treatment and job training.

"It's not going to be given to everybody," he said. "Those in for a long time, or with a lengthy history will be treated humanely but will have limited access to programming and industry support."

Haun also sees treatment, including education and job training, as a privilege, a tool, that can be used to help a person change from a menace to a productive part of society.

First, however, he said offenders must take responsibility for what they've done and they must show they're motivated to make changes in their own lives.