Utah Inmate Denied Jail Release to Attend Drug Treatment

By McCarton Ackerman 01/13/15

Marco Dunigan wants to beat his addictions, but the state still considers him a menace to society.

Hands clasped between prison bars

A Utah inmate has been denied his request to be released from jail in order to attend a drug treatment program over fears that he still poses a danger to the community.

Marco Dunigan, 30, requested to attend the Salvation Army treatment program in California. Utah’s only inpatient treatment program through the Salvation Army has recently closed, so he requested a furlough to be released for at least six months. His defense attorneys, Gary Pendleton and Edward Flint, said Dunigan would be a good candidate because he hasn’t had any disciplinary programs while incarcerated for the last seven months and is eager to beat his addiction.

His lengthy rap-sheet ultimately derailed his chances. Deputy County Attorney Bryan Wheat said that Dunigan is facing 11 felony charges and six misdemeanor charges, in addition to recently pleading guilty to three other misdemeanors. He fled officers in a multi-state, high speed chase when a search warrant was issued, “putting lives at risk, including his own, ours and the general public.”

Dunigan also pleaded guilty last October to beating and pistol-whipping a man. He was denied bail over concerns about his violent tendencies and that he could flee from court custody.

“(There were) numerous reports we received from anonymous tips, confidential sources, confidential informants, involving weapons and violence,” said St. George Police Detective Michael Koester. “I think he shows a propensity for violence and running from the law. But since Dunigan won’t be released for drug treatment, Wheat has offered plea deals that will involve dismissing some of the charges against him.

Staying clean in prison has proven harder than it seems. Several prisons in California have reported parolees getting arrested on purpose so that they could smuggle drugs behind bars. Prison reassignment legislation, which the state created in 2011, gives California parole violators the chance to serve 10 days in a county jail instead of months in a state prison.

But some of these former inmates have intentionally gotten charged on minor infractions and then swallowed balloons of drugs, which wouldn’t appear in strip searches. Sheriff’s officials have reported heroin, meth, and cocaine entering jails through this method.

A survey from the Associated Press found that seven of the 10 most populous counties in California have seen an increase in illegal contraband since the realignment began. Narcotics cases have jumped from 145 in 2011 to 335 in the last year.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.