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Upon entering the women’s correctional facility at the Utah State Prison one finds a small, cramped room with no air conditioning, no light and no space.
This is not an inmate’s cell. It is the control room that officers must sit in all day to watch the prisoners and keep the prison running.
“Look at the conditions,” said Warden Scott Crowther to a group of reporters touring the prison. “It’s dark. This is what our employees work in every single day. This is not only the control room, but also the break room. So if our staff members want to eat, this is it.”
Increased scrutiny about the current status of the Draper prison comes in tow with a series of public hearings that the Prison Relocation Commission has been conducting throughout the year to explain its decision-making process with regard to relocating the prison. Many of public hearings corresponded with potential relocation sites like Tooele County.
Lights are not allowed in the control room because of the mirrored windows that keep the inmates from seeing in. So this room must remain dark all day long.
Crowther said this is not the only issue with the layout of the prison. From the control room, officers cannot see into the cells. If something happens inside officers may not find out until the next day.
In the new prison, the warden hopes for a layout that would permit “direct supervision,” a type of monitoring that allows the officers to see right into the cells without having to leave their control space.
“I know from working in a direct supervision unit that it is safer. It’s safer for the staff members, the officers, the inmates, for everybody,” Crowther said.
He admitted that assault can happen in any facility but maintained that quick response time is what makes direct supervision superior.
Cell doors have large food tray spaces under the doors instead of a cuff port for inmate-guard safety. The space under the door causes temperature issues in the cells — they are too hot or too cold, depending on the season.
Where officers and inmates criticize the facilities, they praise the prison’s programs. Officers say these programs have changed the lives of many inmates and play a crucial role in their rehabilitation. They hope the new prison will allow space for the expansion of these important programs.
Whitney Santistevan, who is serving time for a parole violation after her sentencing for retail theft, said one program in particular changed her life. She works with dogs, training them to help veterans. She currently is working with a small dog named Echo.
“Helping these dogs is helping my life and changing my life and changing my perspective on life, and it’s awesome because when I get out of here I have a job doing this,” she said. “This is my sanctuary; this is where I get better. I feel like I have a family here to help me. It gives me hope for out there.”
When Crowther was asked about having enough space to run all these programs his response was, “We make it work.”
“We want to give them the best programming opportunities as possible, so we make it work,” Crowther said. “What happens is we repurpose. Supply closets turn into offices.”
One program Crowther would like to implement at the new prison is one where mothers who have their children while in prison can spend time with them after the birth because of the benefits it provides to the growth of the children. As it stands now, there is not space at the current prison for that type of program to be housed.
Deputy Director Mike Haddon, of the Utah Department of Corrections, believes another major flaw of the prison is the placement of the medical unit. Its current location requires patients to travel in and out of secure perimeters. This is dangerous not only for safety reasons but for the health of the patient. Currently, populations such as the mentally ill and geriatrics who require more frequent medical care are not close enough to the medical unit.
“With a newer facility we would have a more centralized infirmary. Then you can take those more fragile populations like geriatrics and the mentally ill and house them much closer in proximity to the infirmary, so it’s much easier for them to get regular care without having to transport them through various different securities,” Haddon said.
The mental health unit, Olympus, serves the mentally ill population for all of Utah; however, the facility can only house 160 inmates. When Olympus medical director Mikey Hodlung was asked what he would want in a new facility he said space.
“Just to have more space and the ability to treat people in a less restrictive environment,” Hodlung said. “There are a lot of things that can be done with a new facility and more opportunities to be able to treat people.”
Inmates like Francis McKay have been at the prison long enough to see its physical changes over time. McKay has been and inmate in the Draper prison “off and on” for the past 20 years.
McKay lives in one of the oldest buildings on the Draper campus, the Oquirrh building, which houses the geriatric inmates. Fifteen men share the small, hot and crowded room. Fans are used to try and keep the room cool. The only personal space in the room the men have to themselves is their beds.
“We could use a new prison,” McKay said. “The buildings are falling apart, literally.”
McKay described other issues, such as holes in the walls, that make many of the buildings unusable.
The prison relocation committee has narrowed down the search for the new prison to three main sites in Salt Lake City, Tooele County and Eagle Mountain.