Gov. Gary Herbert named Rollin E. Cook, a former Salt Lake County Sheriff's deputy and jail commander, as the new head of the Utah Department of Corrections.
Cook joined the Salt Lake County Sheriff's office in 1989 and retired as chief deputy in 2012. He has been a trainer and consultant since 2008 with the National Institute of Corrections, where he taught a best-practices course titled, "How to Open a New Institution."
"With an extensive background in managing inmate populations and a solid understanding of local government and the county jail system, Rollin is well-prepared to take our Department of Corrections to the next level," Herbert said in a statement. "He brings both the outsider's fresh perspective and the insider's firm commitment to optimize taxpayer dollars."
Cook replaces Tom Patterson, who resigned as director in December after Herbert declined to reappoint him to the post. Cook will begin work on April 2.
If confirmed by the Senate, Cook will come into a department dealing with the potential for sweeping change, as lawmakers push to move the state prison out of its current Draper location a move that Herbert has said it is time to make. On Wednesday, Herbert signed a bill approved by lawmakers that re-authorizes a committee to seek bid proposals for a new prison.
Herbert said Cook's selection underscores his commitment to a "top-to-bottom review" of the department, with a goal of reducing recidivism, improving rehabilitation and ensuring public safety.
"As a career Corrections professional, I am fully aware of the complex challenges we face and humbly look forward to the opportunity to work with all members of our criminal justice and human services team," Cook said in a statement.
Cook, who has expertise in helping corrections' officials open new institutions, surfaced as the best candidate among approximately 60 people who applied for the job. At the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office, he oversaw six divisions with more than 700 employees and 2,200 inmates in two jails. He was the transition team coordinator for the department between 1997 and 2000 during construction and opening of the Salt Lake County Metro Jail.
"I am absolutely thrilled," said Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder. "Rollin served our community incredibly well. He is a progressive professional in the corrections field nationally and I think the governor has made an excellent decision. I am super excited to work with him. His professional abilities are second to none."
In his new post, Cook will lead more than 2,200 employees within the Department of Corrections, which manages approximately 6,900 inmates in state prisons in Draper and Gunnison and 20 county jails. The department also includes Adult Probation and Parole, which manages another 16,400 offenders awaiting sentencing or released to the community.
As a consultant, Cook helped state corrections and sheriff's departments prepare for and open new facilities in Colorado, Nebraska, Michigan, California and Oklahoma. During his interviews with the selection committee, Cook addressed the possibility that the Utah State Prison might be moved and the need to balance the needs of inmates, their families, volunteers and corrections staff.
"We're very excited to have some new blood in the department," said Vaughn Howard, president of Lodge 14 for the Fraternal Order of Police, which includes corrections. Howard served as the FOP representative on the selection committee.
"I have heard lots of good things about him and was very impressed with him," Howard said, particularly Cook's push for programming as the county's Oxbow jail was brought back into operation in 2009.
"In corrections we need a lot of programming for offenders, so that will be great," said Howard, an Adult Probation and Parole officer.
Mike Haddon, the deputy director of the department who has served as interim director and was a finalist for the top job, will stay on as Cook's deputy, according to an e-mail to Corrections employees from Herbert's chief of staff, Derek Miller.
"We are really excited to work with Rollin," said Audry Wood, executive director of the Utah Public Employees Association, which represents hundreds of corrections officers. "We've had a wonderful working relationship with Mike Haddon over the past couple of months and appreciate the opportunity to work with him and to continue to work with him."