CRIME, POLICE + COURTS

Utah Department of Corrections being sued by families over early release program

May 2, 2023, 5:00 PM | Updated: May 3, 2023, 7:51 am

SALT LAKE CITY -- Inmates in one housing unit at the Utah State Correctional Facility were quaranti...

West Nile virus has been detected at the new Utah State Correctional Facility. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

(Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Six families are testifying in a lawsuit against the Utah Department of Corrections and Adult Probation and Parole over a program designed to create more space in prisons. 

The program is the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, adopted in 2015.

The idea is to release non-violent offenders from prison to make space and allow for more dangerous offenders to be behind bars. But the lawsuit from Sykes and McAllister Law Office states the program has only led to more harm.

The lawsuit claims violent acts were committed due to the negligence of the DOC and Adult Probation and Parole

Citing two separate audits, attorney Peter Sorensen said the program has failed to do what it set out to do. An initial audit in 2019 found that only one of the five elements of the program had been implemented. This led to the 2022 audit, which found no progress had been made since the first audit.

“From its inception in 2015 to present, it’s not working the way that it was ever designed to work and its causing more potential danger for people than the program was meant to fix,” Sorensen said. 

Sorensen says evidence shows violent offenders being released from prison and offenders violating probation without consequence. While a large chunk of the problem is with the DOC, the lawsuit doesn’t blame the department by itself. 

“I think it’s been easy for some of these agencies to pass the buck to someone else,” Sorensen said. “There’s not one clear failing, I think this has been a lot of people coming together that have not done their job well or chosen not to do their job.”

The six families seek unspecific damages, and according to the law office, potentially more will join at the plaintiff stand. 

Related reading: Utah Corrections offers more details on recent assaults against officers

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Utah Department of Corrections being sued by families over early release program