Correctional facility advisory
board discusses prison priorities
By Robert Stevens
GUNNISON—Leaders from the Central Utah Correctional Facility (CUCF) and Gunnison City convened to discuss matters involving the prison and the community last week.
The meeting, which took place on Friday, Jan. 17, is known as the CUCF Community Advisory Committee. The committee was formed out of a desire to maintain a good relationship between the city and the prison, which is a major local economic contributor.
Sen. Ralph Okerlund attended the meeting.
CUCF Warden Shane Nelson began the meeting with an update on recent recruitment efforts at the prison. He said approximately 30 vacancies at the facility were creating some local job opportunities. He also said they were adding nine special positions for non-certified correctional employees.
After Nelson reported that he had toured the construction site of the new Utah State Prison in Salt Lake, Okerlund asked how it might impact the Gunnison facility.
“Operationally I don’t think it will affect us a lot,” Nelson said. “The biggest thing we are going to see, and we are already seeing some of it already, is for staff from Draper to request to come and work here in Gunnison.”
Nelson said the placement of the new prison, which is near 7200 West and I-80 in Salt Lake City, is enough of a move so that plenty of Utah correctional staff will find Gunnison closer to commute to than the new facility.
“I think we will see more of that request between now and the opening of the new facility,” Nelson said.
He added the new facility is an important addition. “I look at it as not just a new facility, but a recruitment and retention tool as well,” Nelson said. “It’s a remarkable, state-of-the-art facility. There is always the public conception that we are building a new prison for the inmates, but it’s not just for the offenders. Our staff deserves a facility that is safe and operational, and I am more excited about that.”
Okerlund then asked how the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI) was impacting the corrections system. JRI was a major piece of criminal justice reform that effectively reduced sentencing guidelines for nonviolent crimes such as drug offenses.
“Overall, it’s difficult to pinpoint the effect,” Nelson said. “I think it’s leveled out fairly recently. Over the summer we saw a spike in population, for whatever reason. Our population always seems to spike right around there, and right around the holidays. We’ve been a few years into it [JRI] now; we’ve seen a decrease and now we are starting to see a small increase.”
Nelson said the public conception on JRI is sometimes misplaced.
“The public perception is we were just locking up all these individuals who get pulled over with a marijuana cigarette,” he said. “Even prior to JRI, the likelihood of first-offenders going to prison is about 0.001.”
Nelson told the committee the current population was just under 1800.