A special election will be held Tuesday in Salt Lake County on a proposed $12 million general obligation bond to finance construction of a 360-bed minimum security jail near the Jordan River at 3200 South and 1200 West. The jail is badly needed and voters should give the bonding plan solid support.
The jail is planned in work-farm style with dormitories rather than cells. The landscaped property will not have high walls or fences. Inmates will be persons convicted of non-violent crimes, such as drunk driving, shoplifting and other misdemeanors.The proposed jail has vociferous opponents, particularly those who live in the neighborhood. Others question the cost and argue for other alternatives, such as home confinement or privatization of the jail operations.
While such concerns are valid, the arguments in favor of new jail facilities in the county are compelling.
First, the present Salt Lake County Jail is bursting at the seams, despite remodeling and additions that give space for 544 inmates. The average daily head count in March was 670, and recently the daily figures have exceeded 700 prisoners.
Aside from the health and security problems associated with such overcrowding, there are serious legal risks. As jails elsewhere have learned, lawsuits by crowded inmates have led to expensive damage awards and court-ordered jail construction. The new mental health unit at the Salt Lake County Jail had to be built as the result of a federal court order in 1987.
Those who argue for home confinement as an alternative, often forget that many jail sentences are mandated by the Utah Legislature - at public urging, by the way. Judges perhaps could use other alternatives where possible, but misdemeanants who are in jail are not first offenders. They are there after other programs, such as probation, have failed.
A new minimum security facility would relieve congestion at the present jail and allow incarceration of more serious felony offenders. In addition, the "work farm" type facility could house prisoners at a cost of $25 per day, instead of the $40 per day at the existing jail.
Since the county already owns the jail site property, there will be a $1 million savings in land acquisition expense. Cost of the bond will work out to an additional $3 a year in property taxes on a $70,000 home.
One way or another, the jail will have to be built. If it is built through revenue bonds, interest costs would be higher. General obligation bonds would save the county about $3 million. Essentially, that is what the bond election is all about.
In West Jordan, there is an additional item on the ballot - a controversial proposal to change the form of government in that city. The turnout is expected to be heavy, which would give West Jordan voters a proportionally heavier voice on the jail bond question.
Other county residents should not leave the bond issue up to someone else but should get out and vote.