Jail standards author lobbies legislators, defends closed records

Friday , November 03, 2017 - 12:00 AM2 comments

MARK SHENEFELT, Standard-Examiner Staff

SALT LAKE CITY — The keeper of Utah’s jail standards on Thursday declared the 600-point framework private — off limits to deeper public scrutiny, both to prevent a tide of prisoner litigation and protect his company’s proprietary secrets.

In a news conference at the state Capitol, Gary DeLand said public disclosure of his Utah Jail Standards would open the innermost aspects of jail operations to “combing” by lawsuit-happy inmates and attorneys. He said it would be ruinous for the counties, which operate the state’s 25-plus county jails.

RELATED: AG's Davis jail death investigation reveals possible missteps, lack of urgency

Earlier Thursday, DeLand described his programs to state legislators who are reviewing jail operations in light of suicides, deaths of drug-withdrawing inmates and a major fraud and inmate abuse case at the Daggett County Jail.

The public relations push at the Capitol was joined by key members of the Utah Sheriffs’ Association, including Weber County Sheriff Terry Thompson.

Deland and an associate, Tate McCotter of AARMSecurity, warned that public release of the jail standards would effectively kill the voluntary inspections system, which sheriffs have lived by for two decades.

“If we were forced into sharing these (jail inspection) reports and standards, then there wouldn’t be a sheriff with any intelligence at all who isn’t going to opt out of the system,” DeLand said.

The standards were written in the 1990s to get counties and their jails to conform to minimum constitutional requirements, DeLand said. His company, DeLand and Associates, updates the standards based on new case law and trains jail personnel in their use.

DeLand’s standards are in use in 19 states, he said. Competing companies around the country are itching to see the guts of DeLand’s standards, he said. He makes his money from the other states mostly by monthly or annual contracts — Utah and Oregon do not pay for the standards because they were the earliest adopters.

Utah’s sheriffs do self-inspections. Operations are also checked by the association and, if the facility houses non-county inmates, possibly state and federal agencies.

Inspectors with the Utah Department of Corrections found the Davis County Jail failed to meet some state minimum jail standards in 2016. Citing safety issues and the proprietary status of the jail standards, officials on local and state levels refused to provide reports or explain the infractions. They noted, however, that the issues were corrected. 

Five people died within Davis jail’s walls in 2016, accounting for more than a quarter of the state’s 23 total jail inmate deaths. Utah has the highest rate of death for jailed people in the country.

RELATED: Investigating Northern Utah jail deaths

DeLand, a former Utah Department of Corrections executive director, said he recently offered to allow the DoC to disclose portions of the standards it uses to inspect jails that contract to hold state prisoners. But case law references and rationale for individual standards — the proprietary components — would not be disclosed.

DeLand, McCotter and several sheriffs reacted strongly to questions about Utah’s jails not preventing more suicides. DeLand said about 40 of the 600 standards give detailed information for jails to follow in suicide prevention and protecting the counties from liability.

He said no Utah jails using his standards have lost a civil court fight over a suicide.

“If we’re doing as badly as some people are saying, our butts would be kicked all over the federal court system,” he said.

Jails commonly check on inmates every 15 to 30 minutes or at longer intervals, depending on their risk profiles.

Utah County Sheriff Jim Tracy cited a figure that brain death occurs in four minutes. More suicides could be stopped, he said, if another 250 staff were hired and checks were made every 3 ½ minutes.

Identifying all inmates with suicidal thoughts is an inexact process, said McCotter.

“Do you think everyone who gets booked into jail will tell you if they are having suicidal ideation?” he said.

Tracy and Thompson said their jails have improved processes over time to prevent more suicides. Properly maintaining a jail is “a continuing moving target … but it’s still not going to be perfect,” DeLand said.

“These sheriffs are not thugs who don’t give a rat’s behind,” he said.

You can reach reporter Mark Shenefelt at mshenefelt@standard.net or 801 625-4224. Follow him on Twitter at @mshenefelt and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SEmarkshenefelt.

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