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$1 billion Utah prison isn’t delivering promised programs

Posted at 9:44 PM, Jul 07, 2024

SALT LAKE CITY — If Franklin Carroll wants to walk out of prison before his sentences expire in 2029, he needs to take sex-offender treatment courses.

“I'm just burning up time here,” Carroll said in a phone call to FOX 13. “There's not a lot of options for me – just to stare at walls.”

Carroll has been writing for months – to FOX 13, friends, family, prison officials, Gov. Spencer Cox. All the correspondence complains that he is unable to take the treatment that the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole has told him he needs to complete for an early release.

“Just the lack of resources,” Carroll said, explaining the excuses he’s heard. “Not enough counselors.”

He’s one of dozens of Utah prison inmates who aren’t receiving treatment. And they’re having to stay behind bars longer because of it.

“I hear it directly from inmates,” said Brian Redd, who last year became the director of the Utah Department of Corrections. “‘My parole date was moved because you couldn't get me the treatment that I needed.’”

According to the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole – BOP in the lingo of the Utah justice system –about 67 inmates had their parole dates rescinded last year because, through no fault of their own, they were unable to complete their required treatment. At $140 a day to house an inmate, those missed parole dates add up on ledgers.

The problem isn’t limited to sex offenders, and is wider than inmates already scheduled for parole. Often prisoners can’t get into therapies that could reduce violence and drug use within the prisons, Redd acknowledges. At the penitentiaries in Salt Lake City and Gunnison, what programming is available is prioritized for inmates trying meet their parole dates.

Philip Hatfield, serving sentences for attempted murder and assault, said he waited seven years before being admitted into a cognitive behavior course.

“And I’d like to get into substance abuse treatment,” Hatfield said in an interview at the Salt Lake City prison, “but I’ve been told no on that, too, because I have to have a year to getting out (on parole).”

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

When Utah legislators were pitching the closing of the Draper prison and the building of the new one in Salt Lake City, they often said a new prison would offer new programming opportunities for inmates.

A video produced in 2015 by the Prison Relocation Commission even touted inmate therapies as a way to reduce recidivism and lower costs across the state’s justice system.

During the 2022 dedication for the Salt Lake City prison, whose construction costs grew to $1 billion, Cox listed therapy as one of its assets.

“So that there can be more programming here,” the governor said. “So that we can give these incarcerated individuals the tools to fix their lives.”

Redd said a lack of staff is the reason for the programming struggles. The two prisons need more teachers and therapists. They also need more corrections officers – the preferred term for guards – to escort inmates to classrooms and keep a watch there.

The lack of programming is “something that we definitely are working on,” Redd said. “And it's not OK.”

Redd, who worked his way through the state trooper ranks, was not one of those public officials making promises during the prison debate a decade ago. But he says he is cognizant of those commitments made to taxpayers. Corrections is trying to address the deficiencies through hiring more staff, he said.

Redd also wants to ensure inmates are receiving programming as soon as they enter prison; not just in a rush at the end to meet a deadline for parole.

“We want to make sure that we're bringing them in,” Redd said, “and giving them opportunities right out of the gate.”

Jennifer Yim, the spokeswoman for BOP, said it has begun meeting with inmates soon after their arrivals at the prisons, making determinations about what programming those inmates need, and relaying those needs to Corrections so it can plan.

Completing treatment is no guarantee of parole, though it increases the likelihood. Also, without treatment, Utah runs the risk of letting inmates like Carroll, who have finite prison terms, sit in prison longer and then return to society with no new coping mechanisms.

The sex offender courses teach things like empathy and decision making. Instead of learning that, Carroll said, he spends a lot of his day watching television.

“I will be a hundred percent honest,” Carroll said. “At first, I wanted [treatment] for me. I wanted to learn things from it.

“But now I just feel like my back's against the wall and I’m forced to do it.”

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