ST. GEORGE – Originally intended for temporary use, long-standing housing modules at the Washington County Purgatory Correctional Facility are set to be replaced by a permanent, $2 million building thanks to the approval of a construction agreement by the County Commission Tuesday.
The Washington County Commission approved an agreement with Hughes General Contractors that makes way for a permanent housing structure for the county jail’s state-contracted inmates. Those inmates have been residing in modular units since the jail was constructed in the mid-1990s.
The modular units were supposed to be a short-term situation.
“Here we are 20 years later … and that temporary housing is still there and it’s starting to fall apart,” Washington County Sheriff Cory Pulsipher said during the County Commission meeting Tuesday. “It’s becoming a hazard.”
When Purgatory was originally built, the county contracted with the state to house inmates who didn’t have many years left on their prison terms and had proven themselves trustworthy enough to receive special privileges and duties, Pulsipher said. An inmate’s criminal history, possible gang affiliations and other factors are also taken into account.
These inmates are trusted enough to work in parts of the jail like the kitchen, laundry, garden and so on, the sheriff said. They are also the inmates motorists sometimes see outside of the jail cleaning up the roadside.
The inmates also take part in educational and work-release training programs meant to help give them a leg up once released.
“We’re looking at this work-release building to expand additional room for those contract inmates that have the opportunity to come down and participate in programs that get them outside the facility,” Pulsipher said.
Washington County originally contracted to house 200 inmates, with that number meant to go down as the county inmate population rose with the county population. Up until four months ago, the county jail was housing 140 state-contracted inmates, Pulsipher said.
According to the Utah Department of Corrections, the state’s prison system reached capacity in the mid-1980s, prompting the department to reach out to county jails across the state for help.
Today, 20 county jails take in prisoners who are a part of the “Inmate Placement Program,” which helps the state system “safely house inmates to reduce overcrowding and maintain safe staff-to-inmate ratios.”
In exchange for taking state inmates, county jails receive additional funding. In 2016, the daily incarceration rate per-day-per-inmate was $52, according to the Utah Department of Corrections. The overall cost for jail contracting, which includes programs and treatment for related inmates, was nearly $30 million that same year.
It is hoped that through the work programs, training and schooling the inmates receive, they will be able to move forward in a positive manner and become productive members of society, Pulsipher said.
“That’s our hope in the end,” he said. “Jails shouldn’t be warehouses (of inmates).”
Purgatory has the capacity to house up to 500 inmates, and currently floats between 440-460. This includes the state-contracted inmates.
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