Dozens of Utah inmates received release dates from the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole this winter only to remain incarcerated because there were no beds open at community correctional centers.
The Salt Lake Tribune estimates the prison was unable to release at least 52 male inmates as scheduled between Jan. 4 and Feb. 4, because there were no available beds at three centers for men. According to the Utah Department of Corrections, most spent an additional week in prison because of the problem. The crunch also affected the women's correctional center.
Typically, about 60 inmates are released every Tuesday. But the number waiting to be released more than doubled to 170 for two or three weeks, a problem caused in part because no releases occurred on Christmas or New Year's Day, which both fell on a Tuesday, said Mike Mayer, Adult Probation and Parole director. The three centers have a total of 288 beds.
"What drives that is how many inmates are paroling that don't have a place to live," said Steve Turley, director of institutions. That's often due to the nature of their offense or conditions set by the board.
"I think they would rather have a place to live than no place to live and have to go out on the streets," Turley said. "That would be an equation for failure. We want to start them off properly."
Former inmates who have no other place to go typically stay at a center for up to 30 days while they transition back into the community and find work and jobs. Some may stay 90 days to a year if their release conditions require additional substance abuse or mental health treatment.
"Without the centers we would be in a world of hurt," Mayer said. "It's a great resource safe for offenders, safe for the community and safe for our officers."
In fiscal 2013, the state budgeted approximately $8.9 million for the four correctional centers.
A separate facility, the newly opened Fortitude Treatment Center in Salt Lake City has 300 beds for men who have violated parole or are at risk to do so. Its current budget is $4.3 million.
Mayer said the department has already adopted some measures to prevent a backlog in the future, including developing a single, integrated system now used by both the department and Adult Probation and Parole (AP&P) to track an offender's history, needs, risk factors and progress. AP&P also plans to create a bed-availability forecast that can be shared with the board and prison officials so releases are better coordinated.
Mayer said the Northern Utah Community Correctional Center, which has 154 beds, currently sets aside about 60 beds for men on probation. That allotment may be reduced to accommodate more inmates being paroled, a solution that admittedly would reduce probationers' access to treatment services and increase risk of recidivism.
Community correctional centers: By the numbers
154 beds • Northern Utah Community Correctional Center, Ogden
74 beds • Bonneville Community Correctional Center, Salt Lake City
60 beds • Fremont Community Correctional Center, West Valley City
60 beds • Orange Street Community Correctional Center (for women), Salt Lake City
The Fortitude Treatment Center, for parole violators, opened in December and has 300 beds.