OGDEN — There’s a new effort in the Legislature to drive down the population of parolees and probationers sent to the state prison halfway house in Ogden.
Rep. Calvin Musselman, R-West Haven, is sponsoring a bill to base assignments to local halfway houses around the state on each county’s number of offenders.
Current law, sponsored by Musselman’s predecessor, Jeremy Peterson of Ogden, bases the allocation on county population.
Before that, the Utah Department of Corrections had free rein to assign inmates to its five halfway houses, called community correctional centers, no matter where they were convicted.
There are five such centers: the Northern Utah Community Correctional Center, tucked against Interstate 15 just off 24th Street in West Ogden, and four in Salt Lake County.
Over the years, Ogden officials became resistant to the reality of the city receiving a flow of parolees and probationers who stayed in Ogden and did not return to their home communities.
“People on probation who get out of there have a tendency to re-offend at a high rate, and that’s actually expensive for the residents of Ogden and Weber County,” Mark Johnson, Ogden City’s chief administrative officer, said Friday.
He said city officials estimated the Ogden Police Department spends $1 million to $1.5 million annually dealing with “the extra crime that occurs.”
Musselman said the Department of Corrections is committed to building more, smaller halfway houses around the state.
Using the new proposed formula, allocations of inmates to halfway houses will more often return inmates to the communities where they offended instead of them hanging around Ogden or Salt Lake.
“An inmate from Helper ought to be down there so he can get support from his family and complete his rehabilitation,” Johnson said.
At the 154-bed Ogden center, inmates receive sex offender and substance abuse treatment, plus mental health counseling and life skills training as they transition to the community.
Despite progress at the Legislature, rapid change isn’t expected.
“New centers will be different sizes, different locations, different land values,” Musselman said Tuesday in a presentation to the Legislature’s Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Interim Committee. “It’s going to take us years and the state can only do one at a time.”
Access to transportation, hospitals, employment and job training must be considered when a correctional facility is placed, he said.
“There will be a draw-down in the beds in the Weber and Salt Lake facilities, but it takes a lot of time and there’s a finite amount of money,” Musselman said.
“We try to watch very carefully where the centers are placed, and we are responsive to citizens for any problems that exist,” said James Hudspeth, Department of Corrections deputy executive director.
He said placing new centers in other communities, such as Logan and St. George, will help the state better connect inmates with hometown resources.
Musselman’s bill is expected to be considered during the 2021 legislative session. A similar measure, House Bill 492, did not get a committee hearing this year.