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Utah’s jail operating standards are some of the best in the country, author says, but must remain private

Some may be released with slight changes if the state and a former corrections official come to an agreement.

(Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune) Gary DeLand, former Utah corrections director who now oversees standards for Utah county jails, talks during a news conference from The Utah Sheriffs' Association responding to pressure to see the guidelines every jail in Utah follows to run jails and protect inmates. The news conference was held at the Utah Capitol Presentation Room in Salt Lake City Thursday November 2, 2017.

The standards followed by jailers across Utah and in 18 other states help counties provide a legally sound level of inmate care when running their jails, their author said Thursday.

But most of the standards must remain secret for what Gary DeLand called “selfish” reasons.

DeLand said Thursday he’d rather end his arrangement that gives sheriffs and their employees access to his jail-operating guidelines than to let them end up in the hands of inmates’ attorneys who could use them against his clients in court.

“Coca-Cola doesn’t tell Pepsi-Cola what goes in the damn drink,” DeLand, who ran the Utah Department of Corrections from 1985 to 1992, said during a news conference. “Giving [the standards] away to my competitors is a very unnatural practice.”

DeLand said he might agree to let the state release about 40 percent of the 600 standards he wrote in 1995, copyrighted in 1996 and has sold across the country. But the state would have to first slightly change the standards to protect his business as a litigation expert who testifies in jail lawsuits, he said.

DeLand and his business partner, Tate McCotter, train corrections workers at seminars. DeLand also sells his standards to other states and counties across the nation, offers to be an expert witness in corrections lawsuits and has appeared in hundreds of cases in his four-decade career.

“From a selfish point of view, [publicly releasing the standards] makes them available to my competitors,” he said, “which I don’t want.”

Utah has been under scrutiny for having the highest-in-the-nation rate of jail-inmate deaths, according to the federal agency that tracks that data.

A string of inmate deaths has led to calls for more transparency of the guidelines jails follow and results of periodic inspections.

“What is the point of having standards if we don’t know if they’re being met?” asked Marina Lowe, legislative and policy counsel for the Utah chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

The ACLU and others have pushed for independent inspections, public disclosure of results from the current inspections and access to the standards. They have also worked with counties and state legislators to see whether changes should take place, though those efforts sputtered because DeLand and sheriffs have refused to share the jail standards, which DeLand considers his product.

While other states have opted to put jail operating standards into law, DeLand said that would lead to in standards that are less nimble to changes from court cases.

DeLand said he constantly updates his work product based on court rulings. The standards take into account what the law says jails must provide, DeLand said, not certain policy decisions counties can make on their own.

“We want it to be able to stand up to all the constitutional requirements for its operation. And the statutory requirements,” DeLand said. “I’m not looking to create day care centers for inmates.”

DeLand said in addition to standards, he’s written the policies and procedures for jail employees used in five or six counties in Utah.

DeLand and McCotter told lawmakers and members of the media in separate meetings Thursday that Utah also had one of the best inspections processes in the country, though the results, too, are kept from public view.

The inspections, which the two said were checked constantly by the individual counties and routinely by the Utah Sheriffs’ Association and sometimes the state, should also remain secret, DeLand and McCotter said.

McCotter said if inspection results were publicly released, sheriff’s departments that run the jails would look bad for things that may be out of their control for lack of funding.

“If it becomes about the score, then the process itself will become tainted,” said McCotter, who owns the company that hosts the standards online. “There are so many things [jails] can’t be scored on because it’s outside [their] control.”

McCotter is the son of Lane McCotter, the former Utah Department of Corrections director who immediately followed DeLand in that post. DeLand, known for his heavy-handed corrections practices, and the elder McCotter were paid consultants for the U.S. government in retrofitting and training staffers for Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, where prisoner abuse was later found to have occurred. The two were investigated but not implicated in those abuses.

The Utah Department of Corrections, which pays counties to house prisoners in their jails, noted in a December 2016 letter that the Weber County jail was out of compliance with several of the standards, according to the Standard-Examiner newspaper. It didn’t make public which standards were involved.

DeLand and the Utah Department of Corrections are discussing the possibility of releasing about 250 of the more than 600 jail standards. These are standards jails that house state inmates agree to follow, and DeLand said he might agree to releasing them with slight changes first.

Maria Peterson, a spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections, confirmed the ongoing talks, but she said the two sides weren’t close to an agreement.

“We have been communicating with DeLand on a proposal to do so, but we are still reviewing the details and are not close to a final agreement,” Peterson said. “Before any agreement is made, we will have many more discussions with the Sheriffs‘ Association, our staff, and other key partners as this would have impacts beyond the Department of Corrections alone.”

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