It looked like a courtroom, complete with flags and the state seal.  There was a judge, prosecutors and a defense attorney. The defendant was brought in to face charges. It featured real pleas and real sentences. Yet those facing incarceration didn’t have to wait to be transferred to prison. They were already there. The courtroom had come to them. For the first time in its short existence, the Utah State Correctional Facility was the location for a Third District Court session. Presided over by Judge Matthew Bates, 15 cases were heard in a pilot program to improve court efficiency. “This is something new and we’re trying to figure out what cases we can take,” Judge Bates said to one defendant during the session Friday, December 15. Held in a room usually reserved for Utah Board of Pardons and Parole hearings, the court session was a year in the making, said Brian Kenney, who was recently appointed the director of the UDC’s new Safety, Risk, and Standards Division. “The goal is to streamline the process and reduce transports,” he said, noting that the day’s events eliminated the need to shuttle 15 offenders to a courthouse. “It’s getting more inmates in front of the court. And it’s 100 percent safer.” All defendants were already incarcerated. These were charges they acquired while in custody or pending charges they had open. Of the 15 cases, five resulted in guilty pleas, all misdemeanors. When court wasn’t in session, downtime was spent talking about current events and who had the best breakfast that day. Afterward, all parties held a debriefing to discuss what went well and what could be improved for the next one. Everything from what time to have incarcerated offenders ready to the configuration of the courtroom itself was examined for improvement. And there will be a next time. The second event will take place January 12, with monthly hearings set through April. The docket will rotate between Bates and Judge Barry Lawrence. All agreed that, for the first time out, it went smoother than anticipated. “I think it was successful,” noted Kenney. “Now we have to refine the process.”...

Choices. Decisions. Challenges. Growth. Those were some of the topics that incarcerated offenders spoke about recently during a public awareness panel at the Central Utah Correctional Facility. The panels are designed to help the public understand events that lead to incarceration and the realities of prison life. During the presentations, inmates share their individual stories and answer questions. In addition to promoting public understanding, the interactions give inmates an opportunity to reflect on their own actions and bad decision-making, while providing a cautionary tale to at-risk youth and others. The panels were frequent before the pandemic, but were shuttered due to Covid-19 issues. They have recently been offered at both facilities. This was the second panel at CUCF since the program restarted. “It all comes down to choices,” said Ben Rettig, a member of the panel. “It came down to my choices, not those around me.” Slowly at first, students from nearby Snow College soon began peppering the three panelists with questions from day-to-day living to philosophical positions. Each of the three took turns answering. “I have a lot of potential for growth, as long as someone nurtures that,” said Rettig, adding that taking advantage of all the education programs in prison “is huge” in promoting change. Even so, they all realize there will be obstacles if and when they are released. For Quentin Hurlich, who will spend more than three decades incarcerated, the task at times seems daunting. “I have never used a smartphone, never been on the internet,” he said. “For me, trying to adapt, it’s going to be a challenge.”...

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.” ...

For the 18 women dressed in white gowns and hats, it was a day to celebrate – even while being incarcerated. The women were taking the morning to acknowledge their completion of the Elevate program at the Utah State Correctional Facility. The drug-treatment course is part of programming the women have received in efforts to help them overcome addiction and successfully reenter society. Completion of Elevate is not an easy task, noted program director Danna Lindermann. Each participant must average a minimum of nine dosage hours of treatment. It includes core curriculum of Cognitive Behavioral Interventions for Substance Use, Cognitive Behavioral Intervention Skills group, Relapse Prevention, Seeking Safety and Transition Group. “Graduates, today you are more than a person in recovery,” Lindermann said during her welcome speech. “You are a survivor, a valuable and important person, worthy of love and acceptance. Today, we honor you.” She added that of the graduates, three received their 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training Certification, four completed Culinary Arts, two completed Business Tech courses (with one in process), two are in process of completing robotics courses, and three have completed their high school degree or GED. With friends and family looking on, several of the graduates took to the podium to express their appreciation for the program and for the chance to have a future different than their past. “It’s been life altering,” said Becky Golly, speaking of the chance to change. “I’m letting go of all my guilt.”...

Jennifer Blau of the Utah Department of Corrections has been honored with the Governor’s Award for Excellence for her efforts as a supervisor of pre-sentence investigation writers. Gov. Spencer Cox presented Blau and 25 other state employees with the award during a ceremony at the Governor’s Mansion recently. The awards are an annual event designed to recognize the contributions of state employees in the categories of innovation and efficiency, energy and environment, heroism, leadership and outstanding public service. The award recipients were selected as examples of distinguished service and dedication to the citizens of Utah. “We’re fortunate to have truly dedicated public servants who love this state and the people we serve,” said Gov. Cox. “These state employees represent the best of the best and contribute to Utah’s success. I could not be more proud or grateful for their efforts.” Blau supervises a team of 10 civilian pre-sentence investigation writers who work directly with criminal defendants to conduct fact-finding background interviews and investigations. They create a pre-sentence report, which is submitted to the court. Blau was instrumental in developing an in-service training program for all pre-sentence writers in the state. Her commitment to training Adult Probation and Parole staff on the processes and policies related to the sentencing of offenders helps improve community safety. The write-up for the award noted that Blau “is a standout employee with a strong desire to improve public safety and the lives of staff and those under UDC supervision. She effortlessly builds and maintains relationships with judges, clerks, attorneys, jail staff and sentencing commission staff. She is a true partner to all in the criminal justice field. (Blau) is an exceptional example of a true Peer Leader and public servant.” The Governor’s Award for Excellence was created in 2007 as a way to recognize the outstanding work of state employees and honor their achievements....

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.”...

Sitting in a Board of Pardons and Parole hearing room, they told their story: Three imprisoned women, discussing what led to their incarceration and their hopes for a better future. But this was no plea to a hearing officer in a bid to be released from custody. This was an attempt to keep others from following the same path. The three women spoke recently during a Public Awareness Panel at the Utah State Correctional Facility (USCF) in Salt Lake City. Organized by the Utah Department of Corrections, such panels allow incarcerated offenders to share the decisions that eventually brought them to prison. It also allows them to share the realities of life inside a fence line. They are held at both USCF and the Central Utah Correctional Facility (CUCF) in Gunnison. Their audience this day was a group of high school students from the Salt Lake City area. They sat respectfully as the three spoke in measured voices about sharing space with dozens of others on a daily basis and the challenges of maintaining family connections while missing milestones. “Being in prison is hard,” said Korie Wolfe. “It’s not easy to call my daughter on her 16th birthday and tell her I’ve been sentenced to five to life.    “There’s a better life out there.” Each told of their battles with substance abuse and the impact on their lives. Yet each also emphasized the hope they have that their future will be brighter. They also appealed to the students that if they were struggling with trauma, mental health or with some type of abuse to seek care. “Just know there is help out there for you guys,” said Wolfe. “Don’t be scared to ask for help.” The panels have been part of UDC programming for some time, though the program was put on hold during the pandemic. It stayed dormant in Northern Utah through the move from the Utah State Prison. It is now up and running at USCF, according to Lt. Courtney Whitney, who oversees scheduling for the program. “We hold them twice a month,” said Whitney. “We have room for more requests.” To schedule a panel at USCF, email UDC-USCFWardensOffice@utah.gov. For CUCF, email janderso@utah.gov or jasondavis@utah.gov....

The Utah Department of Corrections held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new Timpanogos Community Treatment Center on Thursday, Sept. 28. Attended by state and local elected officials, media representatives and UDC employees, the ceremony marked the completion of construction and the readiness to begin operations at the center. "It's the first of it's kind for UDC in Utah County," said Brian Redd, Executive Director of the UDC, during the event. "The ultimate goal of a community treatment facility like this is to help individuals go back into society and contribute." Designed to provide those being released from incarceration with a stable environment while receiving additional treatment, the center will help individuals find employment, seek permanent housing and reintegrate themselves into society. Expected to open by the end of the year, the center at 748 N. 1340 W., in Orem, will be staffed around-the-clock. Timpanogos will be home to 33 parolees to start, with a maximum capacity of 82. It will be the sixth such facility operated by the UDC. The department operates four in Salt Lake County and one in Weber County. As part of the refurbishment of the center, a number of design elements have been added, including glass walls and wood floors. There is a spiral staircase in the center, linking the first- and second-floor staff areas. Luke Lassiter will serve as director of the facility....

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....

An outbreak of scabies in a section of the Utah State Correctional Facility will close some areas to visitors and quarantine inmates in the infected unit. Reported cases are currently in Green, a dorm-style housing unit where incarcerated individuals receive sex offense or substance abuse treatment. At least 57 people have been confirmed to have scabies. Visitation to this unit of the prison is temporarily closed. Nurses with the Division of Correctional Health Services are providing treatment, including the prescription cream permethrin, to everyone suspected or confirmed to have scabies. Clothing and bedding from those confirmed or suspected of being infected will be washed with a disinfectant solution and other areas of the state prison will be cleaned to prevent further spread. Inmates and staff will also receive education about the hygienic steps needed to protect themselves and others from scabies. According to the Centers for Disease Control, scabies is an infestation of the skin by the human itch mite. The microscopic scabies mite burrows into the upper layer of the skin where it lives and lays its eggs. The most common symptoms of scabies are intense itching and a pimple-like skin rash. The scabies mite usually is spread by direct, prolonged, skin-to-skin contact with a person who has scabies. More information is available from a CDC fact sheet. Communications office, September 22, 2023...