Over the past decade, more people ended up in prison in Utah because they violated probation or parole than for committing a crime, a new audit of the Adult Probation and Parole shows.
The audit, presented to a legislative audit subcommittee on Tuesday, shows offenders who failed to abide by conditions set by a judge or by the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole for community supervision accounted for 67 percent of new prison admissions between 2002 and 2012. According to the audit, the state could save an estimated $2.6 million a year if Utah was able to reduce the number of offenders going to prison by just 10 percent.
Audit: Department of Corrections ‘should have been more transparent with the Legislature’
An in-depth review of the Utah Department of Corrections’ $264 million budget released Tuesday criticized a former director for not being “more transparent” with lawmakers in 2011 about how funding cuts might affect the department.
The audit said former Director Tom Patterson told the Legislature that inmates would be released early if the department’s funding was cut, but four months later was able to provide career ladder salary increases to more than 500 employees using money saved by a hiring freeze. It also managed to build up a sizable surplus in its carry-forward budget between 2008 and 2012, when the balance reached $25 million.
The department “should have been more transparent with the Legislature on the budget cutting options before them,” the audit said. “Instead of signaling the imminent release of inmates, [the department] should have given the Legislature greater information about its ability to cut budgets during the recessionary period.”
The audit also said Utah State Prison should bring the daily cost of feeding inmates in line with costs at the Central Utah Correctional Facility in Gunnison, which would have saved $5 million over the past five years. The prison’s food cost is $4.16 per day per inmate, up 60 cents since 2010, according to the audit. The Gunnison prison spends $2.96 per inmate per day.
One fix is already in the works: After completing a cost/benefit review, the Division of Purchasing has agreed to let Corrections resume making “second market” food purchases — that is, buying food items sold at reduced prices because they are close to expiration dates or are “over-produced or discontinued.”
Currently, there are 16,000 offenders under supervision of Adult Probation and Parole (AP&P), which the Utah Department of Corrections oversees. Of those, 17 percent are on probation for misdemeanor crimes, 22 percent are on parole after serving time in prison and 61 percent are on probation for felony crimes.
Auditors found that because there are no uniform guidelines about when to revoke community supervision, the percentage of offenders sent back to prison varies widely across the state — and even between offices within the same region. That means where an offender lives currently affects his or her odds of getting sent back to prison for violating release conditions, which commonly include such requirements as having a job, complying with a curfew, avoiding illegal drugs and alcohol, attending therapy and regularly meeting with an AP&P case manager.
The average number of violations, for example, that resulted in a high-risk offender being returned to prison by the Moab AP&P office was 4.8; in Vernal it was 8.6.
Twice as many offenders were sent back to prison from the Northern Utah Region, which includes Weber, Davis, Cache and Tooele counties, compared to Region 4 (Utah, Wasatch, Juab and Millard counties) and Region 5 (Washington, Iron, and Beaver counties). The rate was also high in Region 3 (Salt Lake Valley and Summit County), which is the largest in the state.
"We believe that the variation in the rate and threshold for revocation illustrates a lack of fundamental fairness in parolee and probationer management," the report states. "An offender in one office may be allowed multiple violations before supervision is revoked, while in other areas of the state fewer violations will result in revocation."
A 2007 analysis by the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics found Utah sent a higher percentage of parolees back to prison than any other Western state — and ranked second highest in nation after Connecticut. In Utah, the percentage of parolees who had their community release revoked was 28 percent in 2007, well above the national average of 15.5 percent.
Slightly more than half of those who had their community supervision revoked during the past five years were "high-risk" parolees.
It costs an average of $8.30 a day to supervise an offender in the community, compared to $75 a day to house that offender in prison, according to the report.
The audit left some lawmakers on the subcommittee with more questions, from gender differences to most common problems that result in revoking community supervision.
But Sen. President Wayne Niederhauser, subcommittee co-chair, said the audit provided "cause for alarm" for an additional, indepth look into the problem.
Rollin Cook, director of the Utah Department of Corrections, said many recommendations in the audit are already in the works. It is working with the Utah Sentencing Commission, the Board of Pardons and the judiciary to create violation guidelines, using a pilot guideline tested in Region 4. The department also is collaborating with the Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice and the Pew Charitable Trust to identify proven tools, policies and strategies that help offenders succeed in the community. A center at the University of Utah is in the first year of a three-year study of the effectiveness of programs aimed at helping inmates not to re-offend.
Also, earlier this year the department opened a 300-bed parole violator center to give more intensive help to offenders on the verge of being returned to prison.
Cook said about 75 percent to 80 percent of offenders have substance abuse problems; many offenders also have mental health issues.
"We provide a good deal of support but do I think it is enough? No," he said. "The quick, broad answer is there is plenty more we could provide if we had the resources."
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