First introduced at our January 12th monthly meeting, the following is the UPAN Action/Change Priorities for FY2015.
- Inmate Placement Program (IPP) and County Jails
- Board of Pardons and Parole
- Sex Offender Population
Ontracting with County Jails – “Inmate Placement Program”
Currently, the Department of Corrections sends about a quarter of state prison inmates to be housed at various county jails throughout the state. Not all counties participate. This process is accomplished through contracts between the county and the Utah Department of Corrections. Those that do, receive a “per diem” payment from the state for housing the inmates. Many jails are not appropriate for state inmates serving lengthier sentences. Jails are designed to house offenders for up to a year. More than that is not healthy for the incarcerated individual. UPAN would like the following issues to be resolved:
- Programming in all contracting county jails should be consistent and high quality. Programming would include educational opportunities, psychoeducational skills classes, as well as substance abuse and sex offender treatment. The quality of these programs should be consistent across the board and commensurate with the highest standards offered within the prison system.
- There should be consistent and higher standards for family visits in the county jails. Currently there are limited opportunities for meaningful visits for state inmates housed in county jails.
- Inmates should have more flexibility, consistency and efficiency in the transfer of their property (including personal accounts) from one prison placement to another, including county jails. A more consistent policy between prisons and jails and between jails as to the property matrix needs to be developed.
- Families should receive reasonable notification of impending transfers that will still afford security and safety issues required by DOC.
- There should be consistent and higher standards for outdoor access and recreation for prisoners serving long sentences.
- Reasons for moving inmates should be clearly communicated; changing placement should require administrative justification well beyond “bed space needs.”
- Inmates should not be moved if such a placement change will result in their being unable to meet the demands of the Board of Pardons and Parole in order to be released on community supervision. Particularly as it relates to programming and employment.
Board of Pardons and Parole
Utah’s Board of Pardons and Parole is the single state agency that determines the exact length of every state inmate’s prison stay. Because of Utah’s indeterminate sentencing system, the Board has an incredible about amount of power and discretion. Many inmates, their loved ones, their legal representatives and their correctional support staff are losing faith in the Board’s ability to make fair, thoughtful and evidence-based decisions related to inmates’ rights as well as public safety. UPAN would like the following issues resolved:
- The Board of Pardons and Parole (BPP) must work directly and closely with the Sentencing Commission to ensure that sentencing guidelines are reasonable and are being implemented with fidelity.
- BPP should be required to carefully deliberate and extensively justify decisions in which it requires an inmate to serve beyond the guideline “sentence” determined at sentencing by the judge or further, at an original hearing.
- Hearing officers and BPP members need consistent, professional training in best practices for paroling authority representatives.
- BPP and its hearing officers appear to be handling a high number of cases that preclude actual careful consideration of each case; a review of the Board’s workload should be initiated to ensure that best practices are being used, and evidence-based decision making actually taking place.
- Family and loved ones of inmates are actively discouraged from contacting BPP to ask questions and receive information from the process; they are warned that their inmates may be targeted for unfair negative attention from the Board.
- Inmates, families and loved ones do not understand the reasons that previously determined parole dates are revoked, or other important decisions rescinded. Currently there is a standard form that the Board uses to check mark reasons for the decisions that is provided to inmates without in depth explanations. All decisions should be explained based on specifics of the individual case, not generalized language. Communication between BPP and those who appear before it must be greatly improved and much more proactive than current practice.
- An inmate should be informed at least two weeks prior to his hearing if there is a possibility that the Hearing Officer or Board Member assigned to the hearing may have a conflict of interest. Current practice is to wait until the hearing starts, the Board Member or Hearing Officer announces to the inmate the reason there may be a conflict of interest and the inmate must make a decision on the spot whether to continue or postpone the hearing. No information is provided to inmate at that time how long the postponement might be. The inmate is not advised that they have the right to legal counsel on this decision, if legal counsel is present. Inmates don’t know they can ask. Currently, the inmate is not given time to consider the situation over time or to contact family or legal counsel for advice on how to respond. Inmates are under incredible stress going to their hearings and should be given the courtesy of prior knowledge and opportunity to make a choice prior to the date of the hearing. This necessitates the Hearing Officer or Board Member actually carefully review their upcoming cases ahead of time to ascertain there is not a conflict of interest.
- The state must increase funding for (and ensure the consistent use of) risk assessments and evaluations that can better inform BPP decisions, in the interest of both individual rights and public safety.
Sex Offender Population
Nearly one-third of Utah’s prison inmates are serving time for a sex-related offense. This is far above the national average, and well above our neighboring states. Utah’s policies related to this population – from harsh sentences passed by the Utah State Legislature, to increasingly broad registry requirements – are making the problem worse, not better. These policies are stoking fear in the general population, and are feeding myths about who these people are. While some sex offenders pose a serious threat to the public, not every sex offender poses the same risk – and almost all individuals convicted of sex offense are amenable to treatment. Research shows that with successful completion of sex offender specific treatment, most sex offenders will not commit a new sex-related crime in the community. UPAN would like the following issues resolved:
- The state needs to provide adequate funding for effective treatment of those individuals who are incarcerated for sex-related crimes. There has been no additional funding in this area since 1996 despite the tremendous increase in sex offenders incarcerated and waiting for treatment. The state also needs to provide adequate funding for diagnostic testing and risk assessment both pre- and post-sentence, in order to best identify offenders who can be treated in the community more effectively and with less expense to the taxpayers.
- Utah should eliminate mandatory life without parole sentences, as well as mandatory 25 years to life sentences, for sex offenses. Each offender and case should be examined and determined individually upon the specifics of the case including the offender’s history and amenability to treatment.
- BPP appears to be increasingly harsh with inmates serving time for sex-related crimes, regardless of the specific type or degree of the crime. A review of Board practices and attitudes toward this class of inmate is desperately needed, and evidence-based practices instituted as necessary.
- Utah should consider creating more specific classifications across the spectrum of sex related crimes to be used for those on the sex offender registry. It should also include if the offender is participating in, or has successfully completed specialized treatment. The result will be the public can be better informed about which individuals pose real threat to public safety.