Sheriff: State inmates secure in county jail
The safety of housing state inmates in county facilities came under intense scrutiny last month after a convicted rapist, Joshua Brian Whallon, escaped from the Beaver County Jail Oct. 28 by scaling a fence.
State corrections officials yanked state prisoners from facilities around the state and took a closer look at the security of the facilities still housing the inmates. That look did not affect Carbon County's jail which has a strong, established safety record, according to Carbon County Sheriff James Cordova.
"The department of corrections does yearly inspections and we get high rankings," he said.
Cordova outlined several measures and conditions for housing state prisoners housed in the county that make any similar incidents unlikely, including the security level category of the inmates themselves.
He explained that the level one and two convicts, such as Whallon, were the highest risk. He said that none of the seven state inmates currently in the county jail were lower than a three.
"The state inmates cause less problems than county inmates because they want to be here," said Cordova. "There attitudes are a lot better."
He explained that most of the state prisoners he will accept are local and that by being in Carbon County their friends and family can visit them, which seems to make the inmates a little more grateful and less trouble.
While they may be happy to be home, the conditions they find at the county facility are much less freewheeling in some ways than the state institution, particularly around what they can have in their cells, the sheriff said.
"It's kind of a culture shock for them," he said. "In the state prison they are allowed to set up a little "home" in their cells, here they can't even have a television of their own. We have taken away their drugs, sex and rock and roll."
As for scaling a fence like Whallon did, it would be pretty hard as the county's inmates don't go outside for their exercise, instead they have a completely enclosed inside area with concrete walls on all sides.
Some inmates have simply walked away from their incarceration when they were let out on work detail or in the case of the low level inmates, who were close to release, when they were allowed to be out of the facility to look for work.
According to Cordova the program known as "halfway out" which facilitated the inmates outside activities had posed some challenges to the county's ability to control the prisoners involved in it. He said for now the county no longer runs this program, which is administered by the Utah Department of Corrections Adult Probation and Parole.
"I may be willing to relook at it," he said. "But there has to be a better screening process for which inmates are allowed to participate."
Inside the jail there is certainly an order to things. It starts with the uniforms worn by the prisoners, which are reminiscent of the stereotypical garb shown in old movies and recently revived by images of celebrity Paris Hilton. They literally wear black and white prison stripes and the state prisoners are decked out in orange and white, which according to Cordova is another way to keep track of who's who.
For a rural county facility the Carbon County jail sports a multitude of state-of-the-art amenities, including a video arraignment room and the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) fingerprint machine that allows the county instant access to a statewide fingerprint data base.
"Only three jails in the state have this system," Cordova said.
The facility also has a medical room which is staffed by two nurses and an on call doctor. Part of the intake process includes medical screening and if needed detox for drugs and alcohol, the sheriff said.
"We also have two suicide-watch cells," he said pointing to a room in which a large, blond haired man paced back and forth.
It appeared, from touring the facility and seeing the ongoing changes that have been instituted to further keep the peace, that at times the sheriff and his staff are trying to stay one step ahead of inmates with too much time on their hands.
The pod areas, which include the individual cells and a common area with a television and tables ,have large windows with a special coating that allows for the staff to look in but obscures the inmates view of the outside.
In the women's area a wall had to be constructed to block the view of men housed on the second floor pod that overlooks the women's pod.
"The women were putting on a show, doing striptease for the guys in that pod," said Cordova.
The pods also have telephones with an outside line that the inmates are allowed to use, however, the calls are recorded, which apparently doesn't stop some prisoners for having questionable conversations, according to the sheriff.
"They forget and some of them have talks that add to their cases," he said..
It was reported Oct. 31 that the Utah Department of Corrections was only about 200 beds from being filled to its maximum capacity.
The overcrowding in the state institutions resulted in the use of county beds, according to Cordova.