More information about what goes on in Utah’s jails and prison could become public information, if the state legislature passes a series of transparency bills.
Legislative committees passed two of them unanimously on Monday. One, S.B. 240, requires county jails to report more information on inmate deaths to the Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice (CCJJ), including the gender and race of the deceased inmate, and the law enforcement agency that arrested them.
Andrew Riggle, public policy advocate for the Disability Law Center, said news reports are often the only way people find out about in-custody deaths, which makes tracking them in rural areas without newspapers particularly difficult.
“We can potentially GRAMA this information but it is often a fight, particularly in rural areas,” Riggle said, referring to records requests made under the state’s open records law. “This change will allow us to focus our efforts and also allow us to work collaboratively with the county jails to proactively improve safety and treatment for offenders and jail staff alike.”
Under the bill, CCJJ would have to send information gathered from those reports to an advocacy agency picked by the governor. It passed the committee unanimously and is awaiting consideration on the Senate floor.
The other piece of legislation passed Monday, S.B. 185, would make operating procedures of all correctional facilities public. But, there are exceptions for security policies to avoid someone targeting any weaknesses.
“Especially when you have situations where an inmate has been injured or killed, I mean, you got to be transparent,” said Sen. Jake Anderegg, R-Lehi, the bill’s sponsor. “Because, you know, is it what you say it is? Or was there something else happening?”
That bill is in response to a lawsuit in Davis county filed after six inmates died there in 2016. The jail refused to disclose its policies, which are used by jails statewide, because they were copyrighted. A trial for the lawsuit is set to begin March 25.