Utah prison officials narrowly avoided handing hundreds of inmates a fast route to freedom amid this year's massive budget cuts. Instead, they are saving $420,000 by dumping a longtime Diagnostic Center.
Judges traditionally have sent defendants to the facility so experts could determine whether they pose a threat and should be kept in prison, instead of a jail or probation term.
The center, based at the Draper prison, held between 40 and 70 defendants for one to two months, said Corrections spokeswoman Angie Welling. Seventy percent eventually were placed on probation, she said.
Now, judges probably will rely more heavily on pre-sentencing reports written by probation and parole officers, who review alternatives to prison and make recommendations.
Defense attorney Stephen McCaughey learned of the closure recently while he was trying to get a client in and was told the center was no longer accepting defendants.
He said probation and parole officers already are overworked, and their pre-sentencing reports aren't an accurate gauge to decide the fates of prisoners.
"I think it's a bad idea. People are going to go to prison who probably shouldn't, and we're going to pay for those people," McCaughey said. "They save money by closing [the center] down, but they will lose money by having to pay for more prisoners."
The remaining 68 patients will finish their stays at the center.
The wing will then be transformed into a holding facility by the end of the fiscal year on June 30, Welling said. Prison officials are trying to retain the center's 14 employees.
The closure will free up cash for the Office of Crime Victim Reparations, which provided about $750,000 of the center's funding.
While the center was beneficial, "we certainly didn't feel that was an appropriate use of victim money," said Gary Scheller, interim director of the office. "It did sting a bit that they would take money intended for victims."
The office can now use those funds to help victims with rape exams, funeral costs, medical bills and other expenses. It expects to dole out $800,000 this year to aid sexual-assault victims alone, Scheller said.
The center's closure was among a slew of cuts approved by the Legislature, which sliced a whopping $1 billion from the general budget.
Corrections also lost cash aimed at reforming drug offenders and nearly $6 million from a jail reimbursement fund that hands cash to county jails to help house violators sentenced to jail time as part of their probation rather than a longer prison sentence.
It is unclear how many full-time Corrections employees will be laid off due to the cuts, but Welling said officials are hoping fewer than 10 people will be affected.