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Gunnison prison adding 192 beds

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The Central Utah Correctional Facility here is set to expand its facility later this month, adding 192 beds.

The expansion follows the opening of a new jail in Washington County last weekend.The new facilities are expected to slow an emergency-release program that has sent more than 300 prisoners - all nonviolent offenders - home early. About 13 percent of those offenders have been re-arrested on parole violations or new convictions, prison officials said.

Roughly 50 percent of the early-release offenders had less than a month cut from their sentences and 17 percent were sent home within a week of their scheduled releases. The longest sentence reduction was about 623 days.

"These openings didn't come a minute too soon," said prison spokesman Jack Ford. "We are probably going to be OK for a while, but it hasn't slowed down the number of people we have coming to the prison. Every day, there is a new all-time high."

As of Tuesday, Utah's prison population climbed to a record 5,114 inmates. That is up 182 prisoners from February, when Utah's prison count reached a record 4,932 inmates.

At that rate of growth - roughly 550 new inmates a year - the new beds in Washington County and Gunnison will be filled before mid-1999.

In 1999, Gunnison will add another 288-bed minimum-security wing, paid by an $8.9 million bond approved earlier this year by lawmakers. A portion of the construction cost will be covered with a $3.5 million federal grant awarded in 1997.

This month's 192-bed addition at Gunnison cost taxpayers about $14 million and will raise the inmate total at the central Utah prison to slightly more than 800 prisoners.

The new pod represents the first of six planned additions at Gun-ni-son.