David Franchina, who worked in prison and on Utah parole board, dies at 70
Former warden began long career as a social worker at the prison.
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David Richard Franchina kept the bad guys locked up and freed the reformed ones.

Franchina, 70, died Jan. 28 from liver disease after dedicating almost half a century to the inmates of Utah State Prison, whether as their social worker, their warden or their parole hearing officer.

"We got a big loss of institutional knowledge with Dave's passing. He knew everybody, and knew how things got to the way they are," said Paul Boyden of the Statewide Association of Prosecutors, who worked on the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole when Franchina was at the prison.

Franchina was a New Jersey native whose exposure to the justice system started early. His father, Raymond Franchina, was a police officer who became the police chief in North Bergen, N.J. The younger Franchina came to Utah to earn a bachelor's degree in psychology at Utah State University.

There he met his wife, Gloria Hoehnen. She died in 2009 after 47 years of marriage. Franchina received a master's degree in social work at the University of Utah. When he finished his formal education, Franchina in 1967 started his career as a social worker at Utah State Prison's maximum security unit.

The family exposure and his education made Franchina well-rounded, Boyden said. Franchina understood the punitive aspect of prison and still appreciated its rehabilitative power even after a convict, released from prison, notoriously turned murderer.

Franchina had a walk-on role as a prison guard in the 1982 movie "The Executioner's Song," which was partially filmed at the Draper facility. Tommy Lee Jones starred as Gary Gilmore, a real-life convict who moved to Utah and was executed in 1977 for killing two people.

Franchina was around when the real Gilmore was imprisoned and awaiting the firing squad. He made deputy warden a few years after Gilmore took four bullets to the chest and eventually took charge of the prison as its warden.

He was a fair man and worked well with the prison staff, and more than once "kept the ship upright" when issues arose, Boyden said.

He also inspired his staff to appreciate their jobs and want to do better, said Curtis McCarthy, a former coworker at the prison.

"You could run into Dave six months later and he would ask you specifics with regards to your previous conversations with him," McCarthy said. "His curiosity made you a better employee."

Franchina eventually became the deputy director of the Corrections Department, and his long years in the system gave him an institutional knowledge that everyone relied on, Boyden added.

"Several times he basically was the rudder on the ship," Boyden said. "He was a stabilizing influence. Whenever problems came up, he would say, 'Well the last time this came up. ...'"

After 30 years ensuring prisoners were locked up, Franchina spent nearly two decades as a hearing officer for the parole board. There he listened to offenders and their victims and was thorough in his written reports to the board, according to his colleagues there.

Though he'd graduated from higher education decades earlier, Franchina kept learning. He enjoyed setting up training sessions for the board, bringing in speakers when he thought it would improve the board's knowledge and expertise. Extremely inquisitive, he asked the speakers many thoughtful and detailed questions, said board spokesman Jim Hatch in a statement.

"His institutional knowledge will be sorely missed and he never stopped wanting to learn, even when it was apparent to many of us Dave knew more than we ever would," Hatch said.

He always stayed busy, and came to the office even after his health precluded him from working full-time and he'd retired from the board.

His funeral is scheduled for Monday. He is survived by his older brother, two sons, five grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

mmcfall@sltrib.com

Twitter: @mikeypanda