I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I would rather do 12 months in prison than six months in jail and it’s not even close.
So, what’s the difference between jail and prison?
I can obviously only go off of my experience. I spent almost a year total in the Davis County Jail, and almost 3½ years in the Utah State Prison and 90% of that was at the Central Utah Correctional Facility in Gunnison.
In prison, I was able to attend and get certified with Snow College’s building trades and culinary arts school. I had a full-time job, working in education. A dedicated principal with the help of some of us inmates put together a college preparatory program. We had textbooks, encyclopedias and other books that we used to make courses for students. I was part of something special. I spent my days creating curriculum and sometimes even teaching classes.
There was even access to some accredited college courses. There was a computer coding camp, a diesel mechanics class, business and entrepreneurial classes and a music program. I took advantage of all that I could fit in and my life has been enriched because of those opportunities. There was even team sports and tournaments, like basketball, softball, volleyball and pingpong. And there were more self-development classes than I could name.
In prison, I was able to get into a productive routine, better myself, help others and feel like I had a life.
Compare that to my experience in jail. I worked in laundry for a couple months of my stay, folding clothes. Other than that, I played poker, worked out and watched TV. There are hardly any books to read. Twice a day, we had the option to go sit in a small courtyard that had 30-foot walls for an hour and look at the sky, and if we were lucky, we could feel a breeze. The point is, there is no opportunity to better yourself.
Jail was never meant to correct and help people; that’s the job of the Utah Department of Corrections. A jail is designed to hold people while they await trial and it’s used as a punishment for those that need to be removed from society for a short time. They are not the same thing, but in Utah, there’s a travesty occurring.
Right now, more than 1 out of 5 of Utah state prisoners are doing their time in county jails as part of something called the Inmate Placement Program. Some counties are worse than others. Davis County had a particularly bad reputation. It was known for terrible food, a crappy visiting situation for your loved ones and nothing to do. So why should anyone care how hard it is for these felons?
Because it’s not about the inmate. It’s about the rest of us. It’s about the product that our society gets when that inmate leaves the system — most of them do get out. So do we want someone who has just sat around for years or someone who was taught a skill, educated and had a job with responsibilities? Clearly rhetorical.
One statistic nobody is debating is that when you educate prisoners, their chances of recidivism goes down. Not only does the return on investment pay for itself multiple times over in not having to house these same prisoners when they reoffend, but there’s the benefit of lowering crime and creating fewer victims. The argument to give society a better product should be enough, but I would also point out how much it helps the prisoner and their loved ones.
There has been a slow shifting of thinking in recent years, more problem-solving and less bloodthirst. This is especially true as our society deals with drug addicts. And no matter how great a disservice the IPP program is doing to state inmates, their families, and society; it is not going anywhere anytime soon — the reason being, money.
These counties take these state prisoners because the state pays them to do so. They use the inmates as a revenue source by housing the inmates as cheaply as possible (by not providing education, programming and other correction opportunities) and then pocketing the margin. The counties use that money for other things.
The importance of that state money for some of these smaller counties was highlighted recently in Daggett County. Some officers in Daggett County Jail got caught and reported doing some horseplay type stuff, like Tasering state inmates for fun (inmates had agreed because they were promised beer.) Anyway, when this “scandal” came to light, the state prison pulled their 80 inmates and the $1.5 million funding for them. Daggett County is now bankrupt without it, and may need to be absorbed by another county.
It’s a complicated issue. The state can’t just quit the failing program. The counties rely on the money generated by IPP as part of their annual budgets. For the foreseeable future, state inmates will continue to rot away in county jails. And in the grand scheme, it will cost taxpayers more as these individuals will be more likely to get out, reoffend, create more victims and require more incarceration dollars.