FARMINGTON — A 2nd District Court judge has scheduled a March 25-26 trial to determine whether key parts of Utah’s statewide jail operating guidelines will be kept from public disclosure.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Utah and the Disability Law Center filed a civil suit in 2017 to compel release of the Utah Jail Standards, which the Utah Sheriffs’ Association and county jails use in operating and inspecting their lockups.
Judge David Connors determined that the March proceeding will be a bench trial, meaning he, not a jury, will decide the issue.
The civil liberties groups contend the standards should be disclosed so the public can better weigh how jails are being operated.
The legal fight resulted after a record year of jail deaths in Utah, 27 in 2016. Seven people died in the Davis County Jail over a 19-month period in 2016-17.
Davis County refused to release the standards, saying they were protected from disclosure due to the proprietary and copyright interests of consultant Gary DeLand.
DeLand wrote the standards for the Sheriffs’ Association and has sold modified versions to jail authorities in more than a dozen states.
The Sheriffs’ Association in 2018 publicly released general sections of the Jail Standards but continued to withhold portions in which legal guidance is provided to jail officials and personnel on items such as medical care and other issues regarding inmates’ well-being.
While the jail standards issue is heading to trial, the ACLU and Disability Law Center already won a ruling from Connors late last year that jail inspection reports — compiled based on evaluations tied to the standards — are public records and must be released.
A subsequent Standard-Examiner review of those reports covering 2012-17 showed the Davis jail fell short of staying in compliance on various standards.
The new county sheriff, Kelly Sparks, elected in 2018, recently released the 2019 inspection report, which showed the jail achieved 100% compliance last year.
The Utah Legislature in 2018 passed a bill requiring counties to file annual reports on jail deaths. And Sen. Jacob Anderegg, R-Lehi, is running a bill in the upcoming 2020 session addressing transparency in county jail operations.