Local corrections officers honored

Uinta County Sheriff Doug Matthews oversees local jail operations. (HERALD PHOTO/Kayne Pyatt)

EVANSTON — The week of May 2-8 is set aside to recognize and honor the men and women who serve as correction officers in U.S. communities. In 1984, President Ronald Reagan signed Proclamation 5187, creating National Correctional Officers’ Week. Each year the first full week in May is recognized as National Correctional Officers and Employees Week, commemorating the contributions of correctional officers and personnel who work in jails, prisons and community corrections across the country.

“Our correctional officers are often forgotten as they are out of sight so they are out of mind. They have a hard job and they provide a great service to the community and need to be recognized,” Sheriff Doug Matthews said.

Matthews said the biggest challenge for the Uinta County jail is caring for the mentally ill inmates, as the department often has to wait 5-6 months to place them in the Wyoming State Hospital. He said it isn’t fair to the mentally ill, as the jail is not the proper placement for them and, sometimes, they sit in the jail for months on end until there is an opening at the hospital. High Country Behavioral Health does provide mental health services twice a week and also provides a 90-day “last chance” drug program at the jail, Matthews said.

There are twelve officers at the correctional center with four of those being sergeants. The officers work 12-hour shifts with three officers on duty for the morning and afternoon shifts and 2-3 on night shift. The day shift deals with more court appointments and more movement within the jail.

Detention Sergeant Brenden Morrow is in charge of safety and security at the jail. He is responsible for transporting inmates to and from court hearings, booking inmates in and out of the jail, completing an inventory of their belongings and making sure their basic needs are met. Booking can take up to an hour for processing.

“I worked in the oil field before getting the job with the sheriff’s department and I have been here at the jail for 14 years and really like it. I enjoy working with (David) Welling and all of the other agencies and officers. It is an eye-opening experience and I have learned a lot about the inmates’ lives and how a bad choice can ruin a life,” Morrow said.

The Uinta County Sheriff’s Department moved into the current facility in 1990. Sgt. David Welling has been employed with the sheriff’s department for 29 years and has been a sergeant for 26 of those years.

“I started working at the jail when I was 30 years old and found my niche. I love it. I also rotate shifts,” Welling said.

Welling provided a tour of the modern and well-designed facility. The jail can hold up to 90 inmates when necessary. The facility has gender sight and sound separation. When a male officer enters the women’s area he must announce he is entering. Welling said the jail has cameras everywhere and an officer in the control room is monitoring the screens at all times. The officer in the control room also has control over all lights, doors and water throughout the facility.

There are separate pods (the term used for a restricted area) for felons and repeat offenders. The J Pod, or rubber room (the walls and ceiling are made of rubber), houses suicidal or dangerous inmates. Each cell door has a window with a metal sheet that can be closed and a slot in the door for a food tray when needed.

The facility contains a complete kitchen, commissary, gym area, outdoor enclosed walking space, a library with hundreds of paperback books, two areas used for virtual courtrooms during COVID, pods of cells that can house up to four inmates, a separate shower area and an isolation cell with its own shower. There is also a short-term holding room, a large training room, a break room for dispatchers and deputies, a medical room, a laundry room, private offices and a small room for recycling receptacles. Just off the booking area is a “sally port” for officers to use to bring in arrested people for processing. There is a separate room for the county dispatchers as well.

Arrested juveniles are held in the short-term holding room until they can be transferred, as no juveniles are kept long-term at the facility in Evanston.

Meals are contracted out to Summit Foods out of South Dakota and inmate workers assist with food preparation and cleaning. A COVID grant provided for the purchase of new laundry equipment and inmate workers do the laundry. Each inmate is given two uniforms to alternate wearing. Hygiene products are provided free to inmates.

The exercise room contains modern equipment purchased with funds from inmates paying for phone calls. This room can also be used as a training room or classroom.

Medical Deputy Mike Pace, who is an EMT, coordinates and schedules the visits with the doctor who comes once a week from the Utah State Prison. When an inmate has an emergency an officer transports the patient to the emergency room at Evanston Regional Hospital.

Welling said the AFIS (automated fingerprint identification system), which is connected to the Wyoming Department of Criminal Investigation, was given to Uinta County by the state. The machine, which costs $50,000 to $60,000, takes palm prints as well as fingerprints and a picture ID.

Welling said, “We have a lot of programs for the inmates to keep them busy. They attend AA meetings, a 12-step program designed for LDS inmates, Bible studies, and church is provided on Sunday. Alumni from the drug court also come and visit with those who have been admitted by the drug court or who have a problem with addiction. On Saturday afternoons, we have a two-hour indexing program sponsored by the LDS church. The program makes documents searchable similar to ancestor.com. They really love the indexing program.”

Matthews gave credit to Welling for creating most of the successful programs for the inmates. “David has worked hard to provide opportunities for the inmates to improve their lives and gain exposure to new ways of thinking. It has helped many of them.”

Tablets are provided free to inmates upon request, from SECURUS Corporation, which offers a law library, education classes, a choice of 50,000 books and nation-wide job listings. However, there are rules and restrictions to abide by in order to use the tablets.

Welling said before COVID, an inmate’s family could schedule a virtual call on the touch screen   in the lobby, but it is currently inactive due to the pandemic. Now contact is made online or by phone. Welling said all phone calls are recorded and saved forever. During the booking session, a machine records the inmate’s voice for future recognition purposes. 

“We did not have a case of COVID in our jail. Once we thought [someone] had it but they tested negative. We required masks and quarantine and meals to be eaten separately during the height of the pandemic,” Welling said.

Welling said all volunteers or anyone who has contact in the jail is required to have a background check, interview and annual orientation on the rules of PREA (Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003). The Uinta County Jail has been certified as having zero tolerance for sexual abuse through the Wyoming Department of Corrections.

Correctional officers are required to take 40 hours of training every two years, and on May 5-6, all Wyoming and Utah counties were invited to a virtual 8-hour legal update training centered on new U.S. case law and detention trends.

Correctional officers are kept very busy monitoring inmates at all times, transporting them to meetings with attorneys and court sessions, activities, classes and to the library; and with the overall daily routine of interaction with and supervision of inmates.

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