Volunteers restricted, inmates also limited in rehab programs
By Doug Lowe
For all of us, response to the new coronavirus has drastically changed life as we know it. Even here in Sanpete County. Even for those whose life is behind bars.
Newly imposed restrictions on visitation and volunteers are adding up to a double whammy hit for inmates at the state prison in Gunnison. Those at the county jail in Manti will also lose contact with volunteers, but can still see family and friends via the facility’s closed-circuit TV system.
In an apparent attempt to compensate for stopping visitation, the Utah Department of Corrections has announced it will allow inmates 10 free phone calls, of up to 15 minutes each, every week.
Making free phone calls available is a smart move. Hopefully, it will help prevent the kind of riots that inmates recently staged in Italy and Brazil to protest visitation being stopped.
Still, the suspension of all volunteer-led programs will result in significant losses—big and small—at both the prison and the county jail. In both facilities, practically all religious services depend on volunteers from outside.
Sergeant J. Nielson at the Sanpete County Jail reports that, “The LDS church has cancelled all its volunteer-led activities here and they are the only faith holding religious services here on a regular basis.”
Likewise, Scott Bartholomew, who presides over LDS Branch at the CUCF in Gunnison, says that, “all our church sponsored programs at the prison—the worship service, Sunday School, Family Evening and Family History center—are now suspended because they depend upon volunteers who are no longer permitted to enter.”
In both the jail and the prison, other volunteers from 12-step recovery programs, veteran organizations, arts and crafts groups, lending-libraries and many others have stopped holding their meetings or providing their various services.
As a result, convicts are now losing a great deal of the education, training and preparation they used to receive from volunteer-led programs: programs that helped them make more productive use of their time behind bars; and also prepared them to make a successful transition when they are no longer incarcerated.
Meanwhile, another big part Utah’s criminal justice system—all the courts at different levels and different types—have also undergone drastic changes in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Friday, March 13, Matthew Durrant, presiding officer of the Utah Judicial Council, and chief justice of the Utah Supreme Court, issued an order directing all courts to remain open to handle crucial types of cases, but allowing many other kinds of legal matters to go onto the back burner.
In general, cases that involve the protection of children, domestic violence, trials for those being held behind bars, and certain other matters are to be given the highest priority, with video and audio connections being used to reduce the number of people coming together.
In all jurisdictions, Durrant has ordered all courts to remain open. Yet, his order may end up conflicting with the growing trend where governmental buildings are closing their doors or, at least, restricting entry.