After two convicted murderers escaped this week from Utah’s Daggett County jail, state corrections director Tom Patterson is questioning security at 20 other county jails the state contracts with to house about 1,500 inmates – almost a fourth of the state’s prisoners. He and Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. have promised a “full review” of state policies regarding inmates sent to county jails. On the day of the escape, the lone deputy on duty at the jail was sick in the bathroom part of the day while a rookie control-room operator, who is not a peace officer, allowed minimum-security inmates to mingle with hardened criminals, including the two murderers who walked out of an unlocked back door, climbed a fence to the jail’s roof and jumped to freedom. The two remain at large.
The state is threatening to pull prisoners who bring millions of dollars a year to counties if sheriffs don’t beef up security. Patterson said he may pull the most violent offenders – often the biggest flight risks because of their long sentences – from county jails. It’s a tricky proposition because the jails prefer inmates who have long sentences because they are a steady source of income. It’s further complicated because many nonviolent offenders in state prison need to be there for medical reasons, to attend court hearings for pending charges or to participate in work-release and other rehabilitative programs. Many prisoners must remain separated because of gang disputes and other circumstances.