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Audit of security at jails completed

Prompted by the escape of two convicted killers from the Daggett County Jail, an audit of security lapses at county jails that house state inmates has been completed.

That's just phase one, the Utah Department of Corrections insists, with more scrutiny of security at both the Utah State Prison facilities and county jails forthcoming.

"We have yet to find a facility that we have not had some recommendations and requirements," corrections chief Tom Patterson said. "In all fairness, we are looking at our facilities, and we, too, are identifying areas where we can improve and will improve."

Asked if any of those issues are at the level of the security lapses found at the Daggett County Jail, Patterson replied: "No. Thankfully, no."

Speaking to the Deseret Morning News editorial board on Wednesday, Patterson outlined changes he has made and is still trying to make since taking over corrections. The escape of convicted killers Danny Gallegos and Juan Diaz-Arevalo is just the latest problem for the beleaguered department.

Prior to the escape, Patterson said the Utah Department of Corrections did not do surprise audits. Most of those audits included fire and safety issues, not necessarily security.

"That's obviously changed," deputy director Mike Haddon told the editorial board.

An audit of security at the Daggett County Jail found so many problems with staffing, equipment and policy violations that corrections officials pulled all of their inmates from the jail. Changes are still being made to bring the jail up to the Utah Department of Corrections' standards, officials said.

Patterson was appointed by the governor to head corrections after a blistering legislative audit found problems within the department including favoritism, a lack of training and disciplinary problems. The department also has been plagued with low morale, low pay and low staffing.

Patterson said he has made changes, including replacing 70 percent of the administrative staff. He has ordered more audits to identify issues that need change and allowed decisions to be made at lower levels.

"Have there been growing pains? Absolutely," he said. "With this big of an organization, change comes fairly slowly, and we have to be patient."

Some changes have needed to be made quickly.

Recently, the Utah Department of Corrections pulled the plug on two inmate employment programs. State inmates will no longer be used to clean up highways.

"Our renewed focus is on transferrable skills that can help an offender once they leave," said deputy director Robyn Williams.

After a white supremacist inmate allegedly killed a corrections officer and escaped from a medical clinic, Patterson said they implemented new policies regarding the transportation of inmates, including at least two officers for every inmate going anywhere.

It could be problematic for a department that is already 100 officers short, with many underpaid and already working mandatory overtime shifts.

"We have some resources we can reallocate," Williams said.

Corrections officials have prepared a budget for the governor and the Legislature, calling for more money to bring officers' wages up to par. Right now, the starting wage for a corrections officer is $13.50 an hour.

"We have no choice but to be optimistic," Patterson said.