The release of 30 suspected felons from the Salt Lake County Jail, including a man with a history of violence toward his wife, is frightening new evidence that Salt Lake County desperately needs a new county jail - and soon.
Domestic violence has resulted in all too many deaths in the past year - deaths of children and women committed by men after months or years of violent behavior.The man released from jail this weekend fits that pattern. Jailers have the no-win job of sorting through suspects like him and others accused of drug-dealing, theft and battery to decide who goes free. The jail has released more than 1,500 inmates this year.
As a supervisor said, "they all should be in jail." But the Salt Lake County Jail is overcrowded, and, under a federal court order, some prisoners must be released periodically to make room for more.
It's a frustrating way to run a jail - frustrating for those who must decide which suspects to release, frustrating for the police officers who work to put the suspects behind bars and frustrating for victims and the public who must continue to deal with them on the outside.
The release of these men only underscores the folly of the County Commission in choosing to build a new county jail on a site at 825 W. 3300 South. The county is taking a big risk, hoping that South Salt Lake residents who fought vehemently against construction of the Oxbow Jail won't fight this one as well. Any protests could delay a startup date and eventually increase the cost of the facility.
Building at a downtown site near the present jail would get the new facility completed and operating in less time, creating space where prisoners can be kept locked up at least until a judge can take a close look at each case.
In the meantime, jail officials should revise the criteria they use to decide which prisoners go free. Convictions for domestic violence and stalking are often misdemeanors and result in low scores in the current jail point system.
A system that allows a violent situation to continue, endangering spouses or children, needs an overhaul. But building more jail cells for potentially dangerous people is the only way to make the system work the way it should.