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Utah State Auditor Finds Grave Deficiencies in Prisoner Placement Program

The audit resulted in six major categorical findings, according to the state auditor. Those findings included allegations suggesting:

1. UDC failed to adequately learn from inappropriate activities that occurred at the Daggett County Jail.

2. UDC’s monitoring of contract jails is wholly inadequate.

3. “IPP does not adequately track and resolve concerns identified at contract jails.

4. “UDC operated without jail standards.

5. “UDC cannot adequately judge how effective IPP is at accomplishing its mission” and

6. “UDC Internal Audit Bureau does not prioritize IPP’s significant risk factors.”

State Auditor John Dougall commented: UDC has not “adequately learned from [previous issues] and improved its oversight of IPP, and IPP did not adequately improve its monitoring of contracted facilities.”

The most troubling problems were discovered at the now-closed Daggett County Jail. According to The Salt Lake City Tribune, “Corrections did not detect problems such as guards torturing inmates until they were so apparent that the department removed all 80 inmates it housed there.”

Additional concerns were found across the board in several of Utah’s contracted jails, which house 20 percent of the state’s prisoners.

The most serious incidents were identified as having taken place at Daggett. The original investigative findings were presented to IPP’s director and also to IPP staff.

However, according to the Tribune, “even after discovering what went on at Daggett County, the [UDC] failed to employ monitoring methods that would increase the likelihood of detecting and preventing similar inappropriate activities at other county jails.” Then-Daggett County Sheriff Jerry Jorgensen, responsible for oversight at the time of the noted infractions, eventually pleaded guilty to related crimes, as did four of his deputies.

The audit said there existed an environment pervasive with inappropriate relationships between prisoners and staff, and cited a multitude of non-sanctioned exchanges for favors.

Allegations of such behavior at Daggett County Jail included prisoners working on personal projects for the benefit of jail employees, such as washing and repairing staff vehicles; undertaking woodworking and refinishing projects on staff personal furniture; installing a pickup truck liner for a staff member, and exchanging favors for access to a staff member’s personal cellphone.

More serious incidents of inappropriate behavior included a guard tasering five prisoners with other staff members present. The guard administering the tasering was a superior on staff at the time of the incident. There existed evidence to support that a staff member stole a Taser belonging to another enforcement agency, and that a staff member actually gave a Taser to a prisoner to scare another employee at the facility. Staff members, it was reported, even tasered each other in the control rooms. Prisoners were pressured not to disclose the incidents.

Finally, the audit uncovered a multitude of staff violations that included employees sleeping on duty, missing mandatory counts, skipping security checks, watching television and playing video games while on duty, and bringing personal dogs to work, then feeding them with county-purchased dog food. The report confirmed that an employee’s dog bit a prisoner, and that there existed a myriad other near-criminal negligence.

At Beaver County Jail, a prisoner escaped in 2007 by scaling a pole in a recreation yard and gaining access to a roof. IPP recommended that razor wire be strategically placed in the area accessed by the prisoner, and that an officer be posted to provide direct observation of the yard while prisoners were present. Yet in July 2014 another prisoner scaled the same pole although he was, this time, impeded by the razor wire.

In November 2018, the report confirmed that another prisoner scaled this same pole and made his escape. Both escapees were recaptured on the same day of their escape attempts, but the incidents appear to indicate that IPP’s suggestions for improved security were either not implemented or not properly monitored.

In a lengthy response to the audit, Mike Haddon, executive director of UDC, detailed recommendations for addressing the problems with IPP and its contracted facilities. He claimed that changes were already underway even before the audit was conducted and that new standards for monitoring by IPP would be implemented.

The director of IPP, according to Haddon, had previously been slated for dismissal; his firing was not in response to the audit.

He concluded by affirming that the recommendations within the audit will result in better management, and adding, “It is the hope of this Department that the findings contained within the Audit do not create a perception that jails in Utah are not operating effectively and safely.”