It’s common in Utah to hear about the opening of a facility connected to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. What’s uncommon about the West Valley Transition Branch is its targeted congregants: Those recently released from prison looking to continue the growth they made while incarcerated. The Great Salt Lake District recently held an open house for the branch, tucked in an industrial section of West Valley near the I-215/201 interchange. Visitors included a number of leaders from both the church and the Utah Department of Corrections. “We want this to be a place for them to progress,” said Don R. Clarke, president of the Great Salt Lake District, which oversees the West Valley location and six branches inside the Utah State Correctional Facility. “We provide an environment where they can (continue to) change. They have changed. But they can change back without support.” Open to men and women, but not children, the location currently only has men attending. Branch President Mark Oborn noted that while participants were able to meet regularly during their incarceration, the location of many churches in the community – as well as the makeup of their congregations – often prevented members from attending there. Also, most such locations are not oriented to aid those recently released from prison. “Typical wards and stakes are not set up to help them,” said Oborn. “We’re set up that way. Whatever their needs are, we want to help them.” For Steven Nuttall, released from prison in January after 18 years, the branch “is a safe space.” “There is no circumstance we’ll break parole,” he said while greeting visitors during the open house. “But it isn’t about not doing something, it’s about being engaged in life.” In addition to providing a safe place to worship, the facility provides other resources, such as clothing and help with transportation. But both Oborn and Clarke say attendees aid each other as well. “They help each other as much as we help them,” noted Clarke. “What we do is give them hope – and love.” ...

It’s the quiet. It’s what makes it stand out in a place of constant noise. Which is strange, because the Reading for the Blind Program at the Utah State Correctional Facility (USCF) is all about sound. The program utilizes incarcerated individuals to give a voice to novels, plays, magazines and more. Their audience will be some of the millions of sight-impaired people who participate in the National Library Service, a free benefit provided to qualified participants by the Library of Congress. Reading for the Blind has been a part of the Utah Department of Corrections for over 40 years, first at Utah State Prison and now at USCF. “It’s so meaningful, not only to those who get our work, but to those who work here,” said Teena Brown, who oversees the program at the facility. “Once I got started, I fell in love with it.” Yet a hush prevails inside the classroom-sized office tucked near the Bear housing units. Those whose job it is to vocally project and speak clearly do so in recording booths behind soundproof doors. Others wear headsets while silently editing the day’s recordings. “I love it, the whole thing, (including) the quiet,” said Russell Black, who is incarcerated at USCF. He worked in other positions with Division of Prison Operations and with Utah Correctional Industries before landing at the program five years ago. He now does repairs on the digital talking book players, used by patrons of the library to listen to audiobooks and magazines. He fixes about 30 a month. “It’s one job that gives meaning to us doing something for those who can’t do it themselves,” he added. The NLS began with passage of the Pratt-Smoot Act in 1931, designed to provide books to blind adults. Its co-author was U.S. Sen. Reed Smoot of Utah. The act was amended in 1933 to include talking books. The Utah State Library administers the program not only for Utah, but for Alaska, Montana and Wyoming as well. It also provides braille material for an additional 19 states, said Lisa Nelson, program manager at the Utah State Library. “We’re very impressed with the quality of material they produce,” said Nelson. “They do a great job.” Quality, and quantity. The state library has a recording studio as well, but it is staffed by volunteers who may be in the office a day or two a week. The 16 or so staffers at USCF are there five days a week, cranking out content. “We can get things done a lot faster there,” noted Nelson. “They really do have a quick turnaround.” Small projects can be done in a week. Bigger projects, like entire books, take more time, said Christie Jensen, who has worked for the UDC for nearly 18 years and is currently the Library Director at USCF. “A few years back we did the entire Old Testament,” she said. Originally done on vinyl records and then cassette tapes, the service now uses a proprietary flash drive player that can hold 5 to 7 books, noted Nelson. The prison program has kept up, using modern digital editing and recording. Yet staff and offenders agree that while the work is enjoyable, the importance behind the program is what gives them the greatest satisfaction. “It’s always the one thing we can feel good about,” said Jensen. “We try to remind our offenders often how this work is meaningful. This program has impact.” Brown understands. She originally applied for what she thought was a library position at the UDC 18 months ago. Taking the position of program manager has been a godsend for her. “I didn’t know I was looking for it, but I’m so glad I found it.”...

An incarcerated individual at the Central Utah Correctional Facility (CUCF) has died after being found unresponsive in his cell on Sunday, Sept. 24. The Utah Department of Corrections’ Law Enforcement Bureau and the Utah State Bureau of Investigation have responded to the incident and an investigation is underway. Steven Davis, 66, was found by staff Sunday morning and was declared deceased by responding medical personnel. The cause of death has not been determined at this time. Davis has been incarcerated since December 1983 for first degree sodomy of a child and parole violations. CUCF is located in Gunnison, UT and houses approximately 1,760 incarcerated men. The facility is on lockdown during the preliminary investigation with the exception of pre-scheduled visits....

Davis Technical College (Davis Tech) and the Utah Department of Corrections (UDC) announced the launch of three new certification programs for women at the Utah State Correctional Facility today. The programs, which include Automation and Robotics, Information Technology, and Web and Graphic Design, provide valuable skills and knowledge to help incarcerated women successfully transition back into their communities. “In a limited environment, I feel limitless,” said Heidi Rasmussen who is a current participant in Davis Tech’s new programs. “Knowing that I can control my future … maybe this time I’ll be more successful upon release now that I am more eligible for jobs.” Attendees had the opportunity to meet with program instructors and participants, witness live demonstrations of the skills being taught, and hear success stories from current and former program participants. "We're thrilled to partner with Davis Technical College to offer these valuable certification programs to incarcerated women," said Brian Redd, executive director of the Utah Department of Corrections. "We believe that education and vocational training are essential tools in helping individuals successfully re-enter society, and we're proud to offer these opportunities to the women in our care." The Automation and Robotics, Information Technology, and Web and Graphic Design programs are part of a larger effort by UDC and Davis Tech to provide incarcerated individuals with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed upon their release. By partnering with educational institutions like Davis Tech, UDC is able to offer a wide range of vocational training and educational programs during incarceration. “For 13 years, Davis Technical College has enjoyed its partnership with the Department of Corrections to offer technical education to individuals who are incarcerated, giving them a running start toward success after their release. We had long hoped to add more training options for women, which the new prison has made possible,” said Darin Brush, president of Davis Tech. “Now more students there can benefit from short-term training that leads directly to high-demand careers in our community, which helps all of us.”...

The Utah Department of Corrections is collaborating with the Salt Lake City Mosquito Abatement District, the Salt Lake County Health Department, and the Utah Department of Health and Human Services to continue to implement preventive measures after detecting a West Nile virus-positive mosquito pool at the Utah State Correctional Facility (USCF) in Salt Lake City. "While this is considered routine detection and fairly common this time of year, our top priority is to protect both our staff and the incarcerated population from mosquito bites," said Brian Redd, executive director for the Utah Department of Corrections. "We are committed to education and prevention, providing free and accessible repellent. We're grateful for the strong collaboration with health and abatement officials, as well as for the funding received from the legislature last year, which enables us to effectively manage the mosquito population at USCF." Both incarcerated individuals and staff have been advised to take specific preventive measures for their safety. Mosquito repellent is accessible throughout the facilities, with monitoring by correctional staff. For those in restricted units, repellent will be provided during transitions to recreation yards. UDC is encouraging staff and incarcerated individuals to wear long sleeve shirts, long pants, and close-toed shoes to minimize the risk of mosquito bites. Medical personnel at the prison will be monitoring staff and inmates for symptoms of West Nile virus. “Our medical teams at the prison will be closely watching for signs of the virus and be prepared if there is an infection,” said Dr. Michelle Hofmann, executive medical director for the Utah Department of Health and Human Services, which now oversees medical services at the state prisons. Mosquitoes carrying the West Nile virus are most active 30 minutes before sunset, one hour after sunset, and one hour after sunrise. Heightened vigilance has been advised during these peak times. “While we are not seeing an immediate threat from this early detection, given the prison’s close proximity to the mosquito habitat and potentially infected mosquitoes, we want to ensure that everyone continues to be vigilant,” said Dr. Ary Faraji with SLCMAD. “We truly appreciate UDC’s collaborative efforts over the past year, and we will continue our surveillance and control measures at the prison and direct coordination with stakeholders.” UDC has been coordinating closely with SLCMAD since the move to the new correctional facility in July 2022. One of the cornerstone measures implemented this year is larviciding. This involves treating water bodies with specialized insecticides to kill mosquito larvae before they mature. UDC staff have been trained by SLCMAD in carrying out this process, particularly focusing on storm drains throughout the facility. In addition to larviciding, SLCMAD has also set up mosquito traps on the grounds to monitor and control the adult mosquito population. SLCMAD is also identifying mosquito species and potential larval habitats. One effective strategy has been the elimination of standing water sources, such as puddles, ponds, and drainage areas, which are potential larval habitats for mosquitoes. You can learn more about the collaboration between UDC and SLCMAD here: https://corrections.utah.gov/2023/04/26/udc-provides-update-on-mosquito-abatement-efforts-at-uscf/ You can learn more about the West Nile virus here: https://epi.utah.gov/west-nile-virus/ Listen to our podcast with SLCMAD concerning mitigation efforts at USCF: https://youtu.be/X4n49Q9mnj0?si=H13YeqG3oCLwsDJg...

15 incarcerated individuals were involved in an altercation at the Central Utah Correctional Facility (CUCF) in Gunnison on Monday evening with five individuals being taken to a local hospital by ambulance to assessed and treated. Preliminary investigations indicate that the altercation may have been gang-related and weapons were involved. To ensure the safety and security of everyone involved, the Utah Department of Corrections has initiated a temporary lockdown at CUCF and the Utah State Correctional Facility (USCF) in Salt Lake City. During this time, incarcerated individuals will be restricted to their assigned cells and dormitories, with limited movement permitted until a further review is completed. The identities of the individuals involved in the incident are not being released at this time. More information will be available after an investigation is completed. CUCF is located in Gunnison and houses approximately 1,750 incarcerated males. USCF is located in Salt Lake City, and houses approximately 2,200 incarcerated male and 400 female individuals....

The dozen or so men sat together in the visiting area at the Utah State Correctional Center, waiting for the ceremony to begin. They carried with them, however, the accomplishments of hundreds more who didn’t get the chance to be recognized. USCF recently held its inaugural graduation for those who have completed the Sex Offense Treatment Program, commonly known as SOTP. “We have over 200 individuals who have graduated since February 2022,” said Dr. Candice Waltrip, Supervising Psychologist with the UDC’s Programming Division and Director of SOTP. “This is the first chance we have had to celebrate since being in the new prison.” Approximately 35 percent of the incarcerated individuals in Utah’s prison system are serving time for a sexual offense. The Department’s treatment program is primarily housed at the Salt Lake City facility. Such treatment is ordered by the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole as a condition for parole consideration. Treatment takes approximately 17 months, depending on the individual’s identified behavioral stability, progress in treatment and overall risk level. Progress is measured not simply  by the completion of assignments or time spent in therapy. How hard an individual works, how motivated they are, and their willingness to incorporate changes freely to show commitment toward rehabilitation without exhibiting defensiveness are also considered. Which makes the recent commencement exercise at USCF so important. “It allows them to experience the real accomplishment of completing the program,” said Capt. Matt Huber, who oversaw the graduation services. “It’s an acknowledgement of the hard work they have put forth.”...

The Utah Department of Corrections is proud to announce strategic appointments that underscore our commitment to fostering excellence and innovation within our team.  The Department is excited to introduce the following individuals to key leadership roles: Rebecca Brown - Deputy Executive Director: Bringing a wealth of experience from her tenure at the Utah Department of Health and Human Services, including her recent role as Assistant Deputy Director, Rebecca Brown joins us as Deputy Executive Director. Her involvement with a local community non-profit organization, which included significant work at the Salt Lake County Jail, demonstrates her deep commitment to our mission. Rebecca will officially assume her responsibilities on September 5, 2023. Jared Garcia - Deputy Executive Director: With over two decades of public safety service, including leadership positions within the Department of Public Safety and his most recent role as Chief of Police in Moab, Jared Garcia is appointed as Deputy Executive Director. Jared's extensive background in law enforcement positions him well to contribute to our goals. His official start date is October 1, 2023. Glen Mills - Director of Communications and Government Relations: Drawing from a distinguished career as a main news anchor, chief political correspondent, and host of Inside Utah Politics with ABC4, Glen Mills assumes the role of Director of Communications and Government Relations. His expertise in communications and public affairs, developed over more than twenty years, will play a pivotal role in advancing our department's visibility and outreach. Glen will officially begin on September 5, 2023. Eric Hutchings - Director of Legislative Affairs and Policy: With a robust legislative background, having served in the Utah State House of Representatives from 2001 to 2020, Eric Hutchings steps into the role of Director of Legislative Affairs and Policy. His extensive involvement in committees related to criminal justice and corrections positions him as a valuable asset in shaping policies that drive positive change. Eric's official start date is August 28, 2023. “These appointments mark a significant step towards our continued growth and excellence. Each individual brings unique skills and insights that will undoubtedly contribute to the success of our mission,” said UDC Executive Director, Brian Redd.  “We also extend our heartfelt gratitude to Jim Hudspeth and Chyleen Richey for their exemplary service as Deputy Executive Directors. We congratulate Jim on his well-earned retirement and express our appreciation for Chyleen's impactful contributions within our department and the criminal justice system. Chyleen and our leadership will engage in ongoing discussions about her evolving role within the organization.”    ...

The Utah Department of Corrections will begin a new program shortly, allowing eligible offenders to have a photo taken with their loved ones during an in-person visit. “It’s for the kids and families. A kid should have a picture with their dad and mom,” said Lt. James Gull, who oversees visiting at the USCF. “We believe it will aid in rehabilitation and reinforce family connections.” Eligible incarcerated individuals will be allowed to take the photo with their loved ones every six months. The images will be taken by the UDC and the department will provide the photo via the visitor’s registered email. “We will prescreen visitors to make sure they are eligible,” added Gull. “We will take the photo in the last 15 minutes of the visit.” For those who only get tablet visits, the department will take a photo of that offender and send it to the family annually. More information will be provided as the program gets underway....

Visiting at the Utah State Correctional Facility in Salt Lake City is expanding to additional housing units, according to Utah Department of Corrections officials. The Fremont housing unit will begin offering tablet visits starting September 1. “It will be open to those who have received and maintained a “B” level privilege and are classified,” said Capt. Tawnya Nicholes, who supervises visiting at USCF. “This classification usually happens within three weeks.” The B-level permits one visit per month. For Fremont, these will be on Tuesday mornings....