Utah counties encourage state to scale back and use available jail space

- BEAVER, Utah- (ABC 4 Utah) – Utah counties are teaming up and making a pitch to the state about taking on a bigger corrections role.

At the Beaver County Jail there are 400 inmates, 360 from the state.

The Utah Association of Counties (UAC) endorses this model as the state considers relocating the Draper prison.

They say relying on rural Utah facilities will reduce recidivism and save money.

About 20 county jails house state inmates with room for more.

"There are currently 600 available beds, the state could send extra prisoners out right now," said Beaver County Commissioner, Mark Whitney.

On top of that he says many county jails are willing to expand.

UAC is encouraging the state to take advantage of the available space.

They suggest replacing the Draper facility with a smaller one.

It would house high risk, level 1 and 2 prisoners, low risk, level 3, 4 and 5 inmates would go to the counties.

"Right now the estimated cost to duplicate the Draper site is approximately $1 billion. They should be able to get it down to $250 million," said Whitney.

That would make the new prison about the same size as the one in Gunnison, which is also expanding.

Under the county plan the two would be maximum security facilities for the most hardened and risky inmates.

Gunnison Mayor, Bruce Blackham is keeping a close eye on the developments.

He believes the plan has promise.

"If there is programming they can attach to or that they can get through the county jails that's really good for the state, that's good for the offender," said Blackham.

Whitney says that's the personal touch counties can offer, substance abuse counseling, education, religion and other services with the goal of closing the revolving door.

"We do not want these inmates with idle time. We want them busy and making themselves feel like they are accomplishing and getting self worth," said Whitney.

This proposal is still in the early assessment stages.

Whitney and other county officials were hoping for a special session to work out some of the details, but at this point it looks like it will have to wait until the general session in January.

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