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About 80 Utah inmates to leave prison a few months early because of coronavirus concerns

Parole authorities say they are careful to keep public safety and an offender’s own progress in mind

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An inmate is released from the Utah State Prison prison in 2014. An initial wave of about 80 inmates will be released early from the prison in a move to free up room there amid the spread of coronavirus in Utah.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — An initial wave of about 80 inmates will be released early from the Utah State Prison next week, a move to free up room there amid concerns about the spread of the coronavirus.

Those set to be released starting April 3 are already within 90 days of their parole date, according to the Utah Department of Corrections, which announced the change Thursday on its website.

There have not yet been any confirmed cases of COVID-19 at the prison, the agency said.

”The board shares the heightened concerns of advocates, loved ones and corrections professionals for the health and safety of incarcerated and community-based offenders during the current outbreak,” Dennis Moxon, director of the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole, said in a statement. Moxon said the board is working to find still more in the prison who could be allowed back into society early without jeopardizing their own progress or compromising public safety.

An additional wave of inmates will be allowed to leave in the next month, and the board said it will continue to evaluate whether further releases are needed.

A corrections spokeswoman did not answer questions about the specific reasons for the release.

Prison managers stressed that those who are eligible for the early exit were previously scheduled for release within a short time frame. An offender’s scheduled release date can be found through the board’s website.

The Salt Lake County Jail has similarly released dozens deemed low risk, most of them women, as it seeks to ensure there are beds available for violent offenders.

There’s no such rush south of the county line, where the Utah County Jail is at less than half its total capacity, with a current 400 inmates.

Still, law enforcers there are seeking to keep the jail from getting too crowded, said Utah County Sheriff’s Sgt. Spencer Cannon.

The sheriff’s office has asked local police agencies who are responding to nonviolent crimes to issue citations in place of arrests. Those suspected of assault or other more serious offenses, however, continue to be booked into the jail, Cannon said.