Michael O. Leavitt Center for Politics & Public Service

Project Prologue



Criminal Justice was a very important operation in the executive branch of Utah government.  The most important thing for the criminal justice operation was to keep everything in check and to stay out of the newspaper.  The operation is obviously necessary, but Governors do not like to discuss the details about what goes on.  Governors Leavitt and Walker were smart; they selected very competent individuals to handle criminal justice and they expected their appointees to do the job.  Our interaction with the governors, therefore, did not occur when things were going well; we met when there was a crisis, a problem, an issue that needed to be resolved.

Our department was different than work force services, health and human services, or natural resources; it was an organization that was charged to take care of the criminal element in our society–a necessary evil.  Any elected official wants to stay as far away from that as possible.

Mike Sibbett was Chairman, Utah Board of Pardons and Parole with Governors Leavitt and Walker. He also served for two years as Chairman of the Council of Criminal and Juville Justice (CCJJ), on the executive committee of Utah’s Sentencing Commission and worked very closely with other cabinet members involved with criminal justice. Peter Haun was executive director of corrections, but previously, he was the chairman of the State Board of Pardons during Governor Bangerter’s tenure.  Within a couple months of being elected, Governor Leavitt asked Mike Sibbett if he would step in as the chair, and Sibbett stayed as chairman his entire term and the entire term of Governor Walker.

Mental Health and Criminal Justice – http://www.hhs.gov/asl/testify/t000921a.html

Background of Departments

Mike Sibbett and Governor Leavitt have known each other for many years. Mike Sibbett was the executive director of the Utah Cattlemen’s Association in the 80’s.  Mr. Sibbett knew the Governor’s father, Dixie, through the Legislature, and Mr. Sibbett teamed up with Governor Leavitt to help in Orrin Hatch’s and Jake Garn’s campaigns that Mike Leavitt ran. At one point, when Governor Bangerter was considering a running mate, Mr. Sibbett was on a short list along with Mike Leavitt and Val Oveson. Mr. Sibbett recalls a conversation that he had with the Governor at the Old Ambassadors Club in downtown Salt Lake when Mr. Sibbett said, “are you really interested in doing this?”  Governor Leavitt responded, “geez, I don’t know I’ve got such a young family; I don’t know if I really want to do that in this stage of my life.”

Mr. Sibbett was appointed chairman of the State Board of Pardons, which was simply one aspect of Utah’s criminal justice system. The chairman worked closely with the executive director of corrections and during the two administrations, there were four executive directors of corrections: Lane McCotter, H.L “Pete” Haun, Mike Chabries, and Scott Carver.  Corrections consisted primarily of all the prisons and adult probation and parole–parole overlaps with the State Board of Pardons and probation overlaps with the courts.

The group also worked very closely with the executive director of the Council of Criminal and Juvenile Justice (CCJJ). This director of CCJJ was a senior staff member as opposed to a cabinet member. Camille Anthony was the executive director senior staffer for the longest period during both the Leavitt and the Walker administrations. Following Ms. Anthony, Ed McConkie took the senior, Executive Director, staff position for a time.

The Utah Department of Public Safety worked very closely with Corrections and the Board of Pardons.  Doug Bordrero.and Robert “Bob” Flowers were the two Public Safety Commissioners that worked with Governors Leavitt and Walker. There was also close workings with Juvenile Corrections and the Courts. Mental Health issues also brought Health and Social Service into meetings and coordination of policy.

One additional area of concern was the mental health system as it related to the criminal justice system.  Lane McCotter was given the responsibility to deal with the mental health piece. On this issue, the department heads had some serious philosophical differences. The state hospital was tremendously overcrowded, and the county systems were not stepping up and taking care of the mentally ill.  A tremendous number of the mentally ill were ending up in the criminal justice system—not that all of them were criminals, but their illnesses often led to some minor criminal activity because they were not receiving the help they needed.   No one wanted to take responsibility for them.

Crime Enforcement Control Plan – https://www.ojp.gov/ncjrs/virtual-library/abstracts/state-utah-1994-drug-and-violent-crime-enforcement-control-plan


A meeting was convened in 1994 with Governor Leavitt, Charlie Johnson, Governor’s Chief of Staff, Mr. McCotter, Mr. Sibbett, the director of the State Hospital, and the executive director of Health and Human Services. It was a meeting for which the group had prepared for at least four months.  The decision that had to be made was what to do about the mentally ill in Utah that were winding up in state systems. It was a gut wrenching meeting where the participants collectively came to the realization that there was somewhere between 600-900 individuals somewhere in the system with serious mental illnesses, and the state had no place for them to go. The participants discussed whether it made sense to build out the state hospital to accommodate these people and hire adequate staff , which was would have been an astronomical expense, or whether the state should build a forensic center at the state prison to house the mentally ill, recognizing that this solution would  humanely remove the mentally ill from society but perhaps not provide the services of a state hospital facility that families of the mentally ill were desperately requesting.

One complicating factor was that the state was trying to accommodate both low and high functioning individuals that were either a threat to themselves or society. It ran the gamut from extreme psychopathic schizophrenics and extreme bipolar cases to those that were just depressed and may hurt themselves or others. The one element of commonality among the mentally ill that the state had to deal with was that these individuals displayed antisocial behavior and were at a stage of mental illness where mental health professionals could not treat or deal with them in non-secure housing.  Those in the criminal justice system felt  the mental health professionals were not doing nearly enough to try and treat these individuals.  It was a frustrating trend across the nation, not just in Utah, that mental health professionals were abdicating responsibility for the mentally ill to the criminal justice systems. That shift has never been reversed, and to this day prisons and correctional institutions are by far the largest theaters of the mentally ill, which is a tragedy of immense proportion.

Mr. Sibbett blames this trend on an entrenched body of research and instruction in higher education that has effectively “given up” because of the huge number of antisocial mentally ill individuals in our country that are not easily treatable.  Mental health professionals have turned their backs on these people because they have large enough case loads, interesting clients, and they simply do not want to deal with the larger issue. As this debate rages on, Mr. Sibbett has become a very popular speaker at national conferences (when they dare invite him) because he is not afraid to discuss disease models versus cognitive models, and he challenges mental health researchers and professionals to abandon archaic philosophies to catch up with the reality of the times.

The decision to house the antisocial mentally ill in the prison in Utah was an excruciating decision to make, and candidly, it was driven by budget. The reality was that even if the state would have built  a much larger hospital, there was not enough mental health professionals to staff a huge state hospital the way it needed to be staffed. The decision was made to get the funding, which the group was successful in doing, to build a state forensic housing unit at the state prison. Lane McCotter had to oversee the building project and the hiring of sufficient psychologists and MSW’s to work there.  This task was extremely difficult because mental health professionals were used to working in state hospitals not state prisons.

Corrections has had to adopt a whole new mindset because it has never had the budget or the money to cover what really needed to be done by professionals to treat the mentally ill. Mr. McCotter wanted to develop a diagnostic center so they could identify those that could be turned around through therapy; he wanted to be able to extend treatment to those people. The others were simply being warehoused.  That term was simply a euphemism for housing the mentally ill individual at the state prison. When the cost of warehousing was $45 a day versus putting them in a state hospital for $400 a day, warehousing was the only economically viable alternative, but it is not the best solution. Indeed, the stress of handling the mental health issues in corrections eventually lead to the resignation of Director McCotter after an inmate with serious mental issues died after being restrain in a professional chair designed to restrain those that were out of control.

The Case of Michael Valiant

ALCU Reporter – https://www.acluutah.org/en/publications/1997-annual-reportUsing the Chair with Care:  The Salt Lake Tribune – https://www.proquest.com/docview/288857759

Video of Inmate Strapped to Chair Airs on Cable Show:  Salt Lake Tribune – https://www.proquest.com/docview/288821328

Inmate’s Death Debated: Salt Lake Tribune – https://www.proquest.com/docview/288812608

In 1997, there was a 29 year old schizophrenic inmate named Michael Valent, and one of the practices of the prison dealing with the mentally ill was to put them in a restraining chair if the staff absolutely could not control the inmate and the inmates was hurting him/herself or someone else. Mental health experts, Phd’s, and psychiatrists recommended this protocol and Mr. McCotter went along with their strong recommendations. Unfortunately, the staff left this inmate in the restraining chair for a period of 16 hours, and soon after they released him from the chair and he was through with his episode, a blood clot hit his heart and he died. This story became very high profile. It was referred to by many as torture and inhumane treatment.  It was one of the first times the public really got a glimpse of what correction facilities had to deal with in relation to the mentally ill.

This prisoner was too dangerous to release, but on the other hand, did he deserve that kind of treatment?  Future governors and other leaders will have to face this issue that has been a constant struggle for the past 15 years or more. The issue has not been fully addressed and will not be resolved until it is.  According to Mr. Sibbett, prisons should not be the catch-all for the mentally ill in society. Mr. Sibbett believes this is a statement that every single director of every state corrections department would support.

Convict Vows to Kill Again After Release Official Seeks to Commit Mentally Ill Murderers: The Salt Lake Tribune – https://www.proquest.com/docview/288582430

Board of Pardons

The mentally ill also posed the greatest challenge to the board of pardons.  When they would review the files on mentally ill individuals there had to be an assessment of beyond whether they had served their time. The question always remained as to whether they were competent enough that they would not pose a threat or be a danger to themselves, their families, or society. Regardless of the guidelines and the sentencing there were individuals that would reoffend and be put back in the system multiple times. It was a sad state of affairs, and so the question remained what the state should do with those individuals. That is a very perplexing and heart breaking decision and there was always major disagreement in the cabinet and with senior staff over this issue.

Care for Prisoners:  Salt Lake Tribune – https://www.proquest.com/docview/281245626Getting Smart As Well As Tough on Crime – http://www.ussc.gov/states/mciff.pdf


There was a great experiment that was started with Lane McCotter. The state privatized a facility at the point of the mountain called Promontory. The State brought in a national company that actually had local ties in Utah called MTC. It was quite a debate over privatization because the country was moving toward privatization, but Utah had never tried it. MTC had a contract for low level, non-violent, mostly third degree felons, or felons that had already received a release date within 12 months. They were not employed for high security incarceration, although the facility was placed on the north end of Draper.

The state built the facility, and MTC ran it.  The construction was substandard, and the building resembles a large warehouse. It has large dormitories and was built to MTC specifications. MTC build facilities to minimize the expense in construction and constructed in a fashion that reduced the number personnel required to be on duty.  So, the facility has huge dormitory rooms at night where inmates would come and sleep in bunk beds—almost like a military setup. One major problem that MTC encountered was that many of these prisoners were on work release and could bring all types of contraband back into the facilities. They lived in close quarters with other prisoners not authorized to leave the institution. Since it was impossible to control the trafficking of contraband, the lack of any therapy, and other issues, this experiment was abandoned.

Corrections budget exceeds 200 million a year in operating expenses, and with that budget, a director must make some pretty tough decisions, particularly in a budget crisis. One of the decisions that Pete Haun had to make when he was executive director, knowing he had to make budget cuts, was to cut the contract on the Promontory facility. Under extreme budget pinches, Mr. Haun made the decision to ship 200 of our inmates to private facilities of Texas within a six month window, and within that time corrections had 3 or more prisoners escape adding to the consequences of the failed privatization experiment in Utah.

Short Sessions: Salt Lake Tribune – https://www.proquest.com/docview/281314706

Corrections Lowers its Budget Expectations: Salt Lake Tribune – https://www.proquest.com/docview/281299615


Mike Chabries replaced by Mr. Haun and immediately had to deal with the issue of a shortage of beds.  The budget was not allowing the institution to increase the number of beds and expand the Gunnison or Draper facility, yet something had to be done.  Mr. Chabries approached the board of pardons and requested the early release of 360 prisoners to free up beds.  This was a controversial decision and was not a popular decision among the members of the board of pardons. Mr. Sibbett, the Chairman of the Board of Pardons, supported this option under a very limited budget and the full Board voted to release enough inmates to assist in Corrections major budget shortfall. Of the 360 early release inmates non came back to prison with serious new felonies. While this helped the prison out it put major workload issues on field parole supervision and on the Board of Pardons.

Corrections sent a list of a little over 700 names of inmates to choose from.  Corrections and the Board established clear standards that there were to be no sex offenders or violent criminals, no disciplinary problems in the institution, and the individuals chosen had to have a release date already set sometime during the next two years.

The board of pardons went through this list and the first third were pretty easy to select.  It became more difficult to go through the next third. The last third was gut-wrenching because the board had to try and figure out if they were really going to be a risk and if they would not create more issues for law enforcement. The media had a field-day with this story. Articles and editorials predicted that the early release would cause increases in crime and the board of pardons would be held accountable. This first experiment, however, went extremely well. The board did a great job screening those individuals, and even though they had some come back with board warrants, no major crime was committed by those early releases. The members of the board were all holding their breath. The Governor was holding his breath, too, because the Governor signed off on the plan. In the end, there was no other choice because the budget was simply not available.

The board of pardons did another early release with Mike Chabries, and both of those early releases ended up working pretty well. This experiment begged the question, therefore, regarding recidivism whether the amount of time a criminal spends in prison is an actual deterrent to future criminal activity.

Death Penalty

It seems to be easy for legislatures to act “tough on crime” by imposing longer sentences add enhancements and by adding consecutive versus concurrent sentences. What is not easy is for legislatures to add the budget to all the tough crime rhetoric and statutes. The question remains, when a criminal is locked in a 5×8 cell, is 30 days a long enough sentence, or 3 years, or 15 years?  What is really the deterrent?

When people talk about deterrents they cannot leave out the most serious sentence which is the death penalty. Everyone that supports the death penalty would say it is a great deterrent because a murderer must pay the ultimate price for his crime. In Mr. Sibbett’s experience of reviewing over 130,000 (few have reviewed that many) he supports the death penalty. Both Governors Leavitt and Walker supported the death penalty as well. But, the more one looks into the death penalty, according to Mr. Sibbett, the more one realizes that using the death penalty strictly as a deterrent for the crime of murder is dubious at best.  The most common types of murders fall within two categories according to Mr. Sibbett: murders of passion and calculated murders. With murders of passion, a husband walks in the bedroom finds his wife in bed with another man and grabs a gun and shoots them both. After it is over the husband asks: “What have I done?” Then there is the person that gets himself into a bar fight and grabs a bottle and hits a guy over the head and kills him. Murder may or may not have been the intended result; the person was merely acting on the spur of the moment. The death penalty is not a deterrent to these crimes because the perpetrators do not think about what they are doing; they just act.

Then there are the cold calculated premeditated murders. The death penalty is not a deterrent for those individuals either, because they believe they are so smart that they will never get caught. Those murderers never anticipate they will ever have to suffer the consequences of their actions.

What the death penalty does deter, according to Mr. Sibbett, are serious crimes from escalating, because perpetrators of serious crimes generally turn from that option for fear of paying the ultimate price. It is these criminals that the death penalty inhibits. Mr. Sibbett explains:  “I cannot tell you how many sex-offenders, kidnappers, and armed robbers, when I asked them ‘why didn’t you kill the victim?’ they respond, ‘I didn’t want to get fried.’” The death penalty is a deterrent for the escalation of crimes, according to Mr. Sibbett, but not a deterrent for murder itself.

End to Firing Squads Sought: Salt Lake Tribune – https://www.proquest.com/docview/281329447

Death Choice: Salt Lake Tribune – https://www.proquest.com/docview/281329447

Firing Squad

We had firing squad in Utah as an option until 2003.  While firing squads fell out of favor in this country, to this day Mr. Sibbett firmly believes the firing squad is the most humane way to execute a prisoner.  He explains: “It is instantaneous. The individual is dead before he even hears the shot. Unfortunately, the media and the opponents of capital punishment made [firing squads] into an old vigilante, wild west means of vengeance that it was impossible to control the message. The issue became politicized and people forgot the reasons the inmates were on death row in the first place.  Indeed, individuals on death row started repeatedly requesting the firing squad simply to put pressure on the state to do away with capital punishment altogether.”

The last firing squad execution was conducted in November of 2001, and the last prisoner to be executed was John Albert Taylor who raped and murdered a little 11 year old girl in Davis County. The system could not get a single reporter to focus on the brutality of the crime and the victim. It was a big event. It attracted national and network national news as well as international media. They camped out for a week. Every proponent of doing away with capital punishment imaginable was in Utah.  Hollywood personalities and movie stars were speaking out on the issue. Petitions and letters from world and religious leaders were being circulated to stop the execution. The pressure was tremendous.

To make matters worse, this event occurred just prior to the Olympics. Utah was trying to court international favor, but yet, here was a firing squad execution. In a meeting with Governor Leavitt, Mr. Chabries and Mr. Sibbett decided they would support doing away with the firing during the legislative session that was to follow the Olympics. It was based on political reality and Utah simply did not want to battle the issue of how a criminal was going to be executed but change the media focus to why the person was on death row to begin with.

“It was a very difficult decision,” stated Mr. Sibbett. “No one has asked my opinion on lethal injection, but if there is inhumane way of execution the lethal injection is tough stuff. It takes over a minute and tremendous convulsions and tremendous pain based upon those convulsions before death sets in.” Of course, lethal injection creates a conflict for medical providers that take the Hippocratic Oath because they start an IV that eventually will take a life. It was very difficult to find the doctors to do it. Furthermore, a lot of these criminals have been drug addicts all their lives, which made it difficult to find a vein for the IV. Eventually, it is sometimes necessary to cut the individual open to find a suitable vein.

A firing squad has five 30-30 rifles, and only four with live rounds.  The final round is loaded with extra powder so no one would know who had the blank and who had the live rounds. Mr. Sibbett continued: “If a person considers the size of the dime all four bullets would hit that mark none outside of that dime shape and it simply explodes the heart and that is the end of it; there is very little bleeding—it is done.

Utah Peace Officer Standards & Training – https://post.utah.gov/

Utah Governor Expresses Confidence About Safety:  The New York Times – https://www.proquest.com/docview/431880426


Mike Chabries  was the executive director of Corrections during the Olympics. One of the interesting things Utah did in preparing for the Olympics was that, starting in December, if there was going to be an inmate released, the release date was moved to March of 2002, after the Olympics. Utah did not parole people in December, January and February. The directors did not want to have individuals on the street that had just gotten out of prison. This was a very calculated decision. Furthermore, AP&P worked very hard to get parole violators off the street and back into prison. In the timeframe when the world was in Utah for the Olympics, the crime rate was at an all-time low. Utah really did not have any major criminal episodes.

All branches of law enforcement were all pressed into overseeing and helping to secure the games. The state utilized corrections officers, which has the largest public safety sworn police force in the state. There are more sworn officers in corrections than the Highway Patrol or the entire state department of public safety. Corrections literally shut down during the Olympics from our normal operations to take care of the security of all of the venues and to be out in the street. It was a big job for corrections to get everything up and running and operating again immediately following the Olympics. In hindsight, this was a strong and wise strategy that had a great outcome.

Bid Received for Prison Expansion: Salt Lake Tribune – https://www.proquest.com/docview/288681517

Gunnison Prison

Scott Carver took over for Mike Chabries and was charged to oversee the expansion of the Gunnison prison. He worked tirelessly with the legislature to ensure that the facility had enough beds because of the tremendous growth in the prison population.  The main Draper Prison site located at the point of the mountain at the southern most part of Salt Lake County is clearly coming under the same population pressure that the old Sugar House prison had 60 years ago. Housing and Business in the Draper area is putting great pressure on moving the Draper prison location and the Gunnison expansion to assist in a more gradual transfer of housing was one of the major issue supporting Gunnison. In the next 10 years major policy issues will need to be made on the relocation of the main Draper prison. Crime will not end and everyday more of the population are sent to prison. Future Governor’s will need to be very careful on new criminal laws and sentences as legislatures are quick to add harsher criminal sentences with the budget to support the new laws into the next decade.

Summary for Corrections and the Board of Pardons

Both Governor Leavitt and Governor Walker selected outstanding Cabinet members to lead this very difficult governmental division of state government. Both allowed the Chairman and Executive Directors to use their deep professional background to advise and run criminal just without the Governor’s heavy involvement. To be as effective as possible the Chairman of the Board of Pardons and Parole, Executive Director of CCJJ, and the Executive Director of Corrections must work very closely to develop a strong criminal justice plan.

Michael O. Leavitt Center for Politics and Public Service