Facebook Twitter

DOWNTOWN JAIL ISN’T THE BEST ANSWER

SHARE DOWNTOWN JAIL ISN’T THE BEST ANSWER

When Jay Evensen was promoted from a beat reporter to an editorial writer, he brought a wealth of experience and knowledge to the editorial page of the Deseret News. However, he recently failed to do what good reporters should do when gathering facts for a story - get both sides.

On July 7, he opined about the Metro Jail Committee's vote to advise the County Commission to build a new jail and criminal justice center on a 47-acre tract of land between 4100 and 4500 S. Main.As they say in the reporting business: As chairman of the Metro Jail Committee, I want to set the record straight on a few of Evensen's editorial comments.

The county's Corrections Master Plan, done in 1989, recommended that a minimum security jail be built in stages to eventually house 552 sentenced inmates. Even though local opposition to the Oxbow Jail was stirred up by the then-South Salt Lake mayor and several City Council members, the residential property owners who remain now believe the facility has made a vast improvement in their small neighborhood.

Commercial property development near the jail has grown by leaps and bounds. The county has been and will continue to be a good neighbor to South Salt Lake landowners.

The fact that hard-core felons are not housed at Oxbow is not because of restrictions by South Salt Lake, but because the jail is designed and has been built to house only "minimum-security" inmates.

Contrary to Evensen's position, the Oxbow Jail was not an expensive partial solution to the county's jail problems. In fact, the eventual cost to construct the 552-bed minimum security facility will be less than one-half of today's costs to construct jail facilities, and it will serve the minimum security needs of the county for the next 10 to 15 years if the balance of the master plan is followed.

This includes the construction of a 1,200-bed jail (expandable to 1,600) to replace the outdated, worn out and overcrowded Metro Jail on the Metro Hall of Justice block. While a partial solution to jail problems, Oxbow was and is an essential part of long-term jail planning, which is now well behind schedule.

Evensen states: "A downtown jail would be cheaper. The county already owns the land . . . and . . . the proximity (to the new courts complex) would reduce the cost of transporting prisoners back and forth from court."

If Evensen had been following the disputes between Salt Lake County and Salt Lake City for the past 30 years, he would have known that the ownership of the Metro Hall of Justice block is a hodgepodge of joint and separate ownership where fee title has been argued about in endless time-consuming meetings.

In 1988, after the Salt Lake City Police Department moved out of the Metro Hall of Justice, the county was forced to pay the city top dollar to rent the vacated space for additional minimum security jail space.

In 1986, the county was forced by a federal court order to build a mental health facility at the jail. The county was required to purchase from the city extra land needed for the expansion.

The $25,000 Salt Lake City taxpayers paid for a Metro jail study done by a Minnesota architectural firm suggested that a structure be built covering virtually the entire five-acre area at the Metro Hall of Justice with a 20-foot wall surrounding it, with precious few parking spaces.

The proposed concrete and block building would dwarf the beautiful Salt Lake City Library and encroach to 30 feet of this award-winning building. It would stand in stark contrast to the majesty of the renovated City-County Building and the elegance of the planned courts complex.

Will this be acceptable to the library board, library patrons, churches, restaurant owners and other business owners in the area?

I tend to agree with the statement Deputy Mayor Brian Hatch made to the Metro Jail Committee in 1992: "The site would probably run into significant resistance from citizens and local businesses."

The question of what a Metro Hall of Justice jail would cost was discussed in length by the jail committee. The cost would depend entirely on the type and quality of the structure.

The city's Minnesota expert put the construction cost at $88.4 million but failed to include $3.5 million dollars for a new boiler, chiller and power plant to replace the 30-year-old equipment and pegged the building costs at $112 per square foot for the first phase to $102 per square foot for the second stage.

All other jail experts put a more realistic figure of $120 per square foot for a jail that would blend in with the existing buildings on the block and not resemble a cement and block bunker. The difference is a $3 million to $6 million tab.

The operating costs of such a jail facility is a total unknown because there has never been a jail built anywhere using a ramp system to move inmates, staff and materials from one level to another.

In addition, site size limitations would require that correctional officers escort inmates to visiting and required recreation. This would increase staffing and operational costs by as much as $1 million a year over a single-level jail built on a clean 20-25 acre site.

If a high-rise design were used, the increased construction and operational costs could cost taxpayers $112 million more over the life of the jail. The Metro Jail Committee correctly concluded by a 15-4 vote that this was not a desirable solution to the county's jail problems.

The proximity of the new jail to the new courts complex would not significantly reduce the cost of transporting inmates.

Jail administrators tell us that the major cost of transporting inmates is in preparing them for movement. Use of manacles, handcuffs, etc. is required as well as a desired ratio of correctional officers to inmates for control purposes. The cost difference in moving inmates three blocks or six miles is minimal.

Finally, Evensen incorrectly states that I wanted the new Salt Lake courts complex located in Murray, a fight he said I lost. I have never suggested that the entire combined courts complex be located anywhere but in downtown Salt Lake City. I have, however, suggested that the juvenile courts not be moved to a congested downtown location away from the public they must serve.

I have also suggested that all criminal cases prosecuted by the state be handled at a single location at a criminal justice complex next to the new jail in order to avoid costly and dangerous ground transportation of prisoners and where criminal justice support agencies could co-locate in government owned buildings.