DRAPER, Utah (ABC4 News) – On Friday, a group of about 20 family members and friends of inmates gathered outside of the Utah Department of Corrections building in Draper to protest the removal of the A/B schedule.
They held signs with messages that read,”Stop the dog fights now!” and “What’s the price for a human life?”
In November, Utah prisons moved away from the A/B schedule, which had been implemented in the prisons for the last five years.
This move allowed rival gang members to interact with one another, which according to protesters, has placed their loved ones in danger.
“Since I’ve heard that they were going to combine the A and B days, I just knew that it was going to be something that was going to put everybody in danger, not only gang members but everybody, because its putting people that have hated each other for generations into the same area and telling them, “Okay, now you guys have got to shake hands and get along,” said a protester who identified herself by the initial N.M. “It’s not going to happen, especially when there’s not a way to slowly integrate them.”
A protester who identified herself by the initials A.C. said she is all for people learning to get along. However, “There’s a better way to do what they’re doing,” she said, referring to the removal of the schedule which would keep rival gang members separate.
ABC4 reached out to the Utah Department of Corrections in regards to the schedule change and received the following statement from Executive Director Mike Haddon:
“As we have completed this initiative to move away from gang segregated housing, in order to increase inmate safety and provide more opportunities for offenders to step away from their gangs, we have seen a decrease in violence and overall incidents.
I am proud of our staff who continue to maintain the safety and security of offenders, while also working diligently and tirelessly to help those we supervise successfully exit the criminal justice system.”
According to N.M. and A.C., many gang members were born into families who have been affiliated with a certain gang for generations. Therefore, they said the expectation that rival gang members are going to get along immediately is unrealistic, and the resulting fights can get inmates extra prison time.
“We’re trying to reduce the number of inmates in prisons,” N.M said. “By doing this integration, it is causing more people to get extra charges and when you’re gang-affiliated, you get the gang enhancement placed on you, which would mean that somebody who goes back for a parole violation could end up there for life because of one incident that occurs from this situation.”
A.C. agreed and said that inmates could get extra time added onto their sentence for defending themselves.
“They’re receiving charges of upwards of five years to life just for defending themselves… It’s either defend yourself, fight to survive, or get a target placed on you,” she said. “As a wife, a sister, a daughter of inmates, I can say the hardest part is never knowing when it will be your time to get that phone call where your inmate didn’t make it…”
ABC4 News previously interviewed Roni Wilcox and Sue Steel about the A/B schedule change. Click here to read the full story. Wilcox and Steel, relatives of an inmate, organized the protest after they said they felt that their concerns were not being heard. Steel said the two made phone calls, contacted family and friends, and posted about the protest on the internet.
“We have done exactly what we have been asked to do,” Wilcox said. “We have followed the chain of command. We’ve sent emails, we’ve made phone calls… yet nothing has changed. They ignored us; they didn’t respond. They don’t realize how serious it is that they are putting men’s lives in danger every time they open those doors. This protest, I don’t know how else to get through to them,” she said.
Wilcox said the protest isn’t just about the welfare of any one inmate.
“This is about every single person in that prison and out in Gunnison, every one of them. And if we don’t step up and do something, someone is going to be killed,” Wilcox said, referring to the inmates and her concern about their safety under the current circumstances.
Steel said that her inmate is petrified for his safety.
“It’s scary enough in prison,” she said. “You don’t need the guards and the Utah Department of Corrections setting you up for even more danger than it already is.”
According to the protesters, their inmates were told not to talk to family about the current situation in the prison regarding the schedule change.
“I don’t think the public knows… how awful the situation is in there,” Wilcox said, gesturing to the Utah State Prison. “They’re not treated like humans, yet they want them to exit that system and come out here and be law-abiding citizens.”
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