(KCPW News) A failed proposal to reopen Oxbow Jail might be revived this year. The option is looking more attractive as overcrowding at the Salt Lake County jail is forcing officials to release inmates with more serious criminal convictions than ever before, says Salt Lake County Councilman David Wilde, the chairman of the council's law enforcement committee.
"If push comes to shove and there needs to be a tax increase to take care of some of these jail issues, I think that is a number one priority our taxpayers have. And I think if they were presented with all of the facts and just understood that there's no other alternative but to spend more money to get jail space, they would probably support a tax increase for that sort of thing," Wilde says.
Salt Lake County Corrections Chief Rollin Cook alerted council members this week that officials routinely release non-violent inmates convicted of class B or C offenses during the summer, when the jail population spikes. However, Cook says last weekend's release of 14 inmates included some convicted of class A misdemeanors and district court commitments. While reopening Oxbow might be back on the table, Councilman Joe Hatch says the council needs to take immediate action. He proposes taking $400,000 from the $685,000 budgeted for a criminal justice master plan to immediately add more beds at the jail or to increase funding for programs that serve as alternatives to incarceration, such as drug courts. Alternative programs should be considered as a long-term fix, he says.
"There is a bipartisan consensus among virtually everyone, that the most cost effective ways to deal with criminal justice issues are to put more money into alternatives to incarceration, and use the jail for those that commit violent crimes, or have a risk of committing violent crimes," Hatch says.
The criminal justice master plan will also address long-term solutions to overcrowded jails. It is expected to be completed by early 2009.