When Jon Stubbs walked out of the Utah State Prison in the fall of 2016, he planned to find work, repair broken relationships and never get in trouble with the law again.
So far, he’s done it.
“Prison changed me,” Stubbs, now a co-owner of a trucking business, said from the cab of one of his dump trucks. “It saved me.”
But the change didn’t come from his time spent as “one-triple-six-oh-two,” as he was called by officers at the state’s main prison in Draper.
Instead, he said, his transfer 226 miles south to the Garfield County jail — where staffers used his name and showed him he could be a responsible leader — gave him a chance to turn his life around.
And he’s not the only one.
A handful of former prison inmates who spent time at the jail have formed a unique, albeit informal, support network.
In jail, they helped one another complete a substance abuse program and taught one another skills ranging from welding to silk screening. Now, they help one another land jobs and stay out of trouble.
Leavitt and Stubbs say the more individualized attention they received in Garfield County was key to their rehabilitation.
Garfield County Sheriff Danny Perkins said his jail and others have continued to shift away from warehousing inmates and toward rehabilitating them. “These men are treated like people, you know. We give them respect. We congratulate them when they succeed. … It makes a difference.”
Bryce Talbot, a current state inmate in Garfield County, said: “They treat us like human beings, and, ultimately, that lets us act like human beings.”
Leavitt, who also was housed for a time at the Beaver County jail, said his experience highlights the best of the IPP. But troubling occurrences at some of Utah’s jails call into question how inmates are treated.
Last year, Corrections removed 80 state inmates from the Daggett County jail because an officer was terrorizing prisoners with stun guns and police dogs. He has since been convicted, and the state has yet to send any more inmates to Daggett.
After that assault, the state added new monthly inspections and quarterly reviews to ensure logs and video surveillance at the jails match.
In a move that would reverse years of secrecy, Corrections announced in January that it plans to work with the Utah Sheriffs’ Association to create new, public standards that govern prison practices and, consequently, the jails that contract to hold state inmates.
Despite the recent controversies, the state continues to rely on county jails and will do so long after the new prison opens in 2020.
For one, it saves the state money.
Estimates for the cost of the new prison project have mushroomed from $550 million to at least $692 million, prompting the state to drop the number of beds from a planned 4,000 to 3,600. That means the state is likely to shift more inmates to its complex in Gunnison, to the jails or both.