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Utah’s state prison system is running out of room for inmates

(Photo Credit: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah prison system is running out of room, lawmakers heard from the Department of Corrections this week.

The executive director of the corrections department, Mike Haddon, told legislators at a committee hearing Tuesday the system added 21 new inmates every month in the last year.

“It’s probably the largest increase we’ve seen in the state of Utah,” Haddon said. “So that’s causing us some sense of alarm.”

That growth rate is among the highest in the nation and is also the state’s biggest prison population increase in at least 20 years, Haddon said.

“We’re working on identifying what is driving this demand for bed space,” Haddon said. “We need to look at what’s driving this population because the growth is simply not sustainable.”

The new prison being built west of Salt Lake City International Airport will have fewer beds than the existing state prison, located in Draper. So Haddon says corrections officials have capped the population at the Draper facility to match for now. But he says they will need more beds. Right now, there are just 199 that are open.

Haddon told lawmakers one solution could be to add more bunks to the Gunnison facility, which is fully staffed.

“If we add extra bunks, we don’t necessarily need additional custody or security staff to manage those units,” Haddon said.

Adding extra beds at county jail facilities, Haddon said, would be only a temporary fix and would not address the long-term growth issues.