Salt Lake County's decision to pay $2.5 million and open Pod C at the Oxbow Jail is both laudable and alarming.
- It is laudable because it shows the county is committed to helping Salt Lake City control its growing prostitution problem while making sure other criminals are not let go early in the process. Last summer, Mayor Deedee Corradini told the media that city police were having to release virtually every prostitute arrested because the county jail was too full to accept them.Streetwalkers, and their customers, were operating with impunity because they knew they wouldn't have to spend time in jail.
At the time, county leaders accused Corradini of using the media to achieve her ends. Now that emotions have cooled, a spirit of cooperation seems to have set in.
Sheriff Aaron Kennard said he wants to use the entire new pod for women, transferring the 100 now held in the downtown jail and leaving the 84 other beds for women who now are being arrested and released. This should signal the end to brazen solicitation on downtown streets.
- It is alarming because it demonstrates how crime is being committed with a frequency far beyond what residents along the Wasatch Front should tolerate. When the Oxbow Jail originally opened in 1991, county officials believed it would satisfy their needs for a while. They were so confident that they voted to open only one of the two finished pods.
At the time, county commissioners reasoned they could avoid raising property taxes by not operating a second pod. They did this despite the fact voters had agreed to a tax increase for that purpose at a referendum.
Not long after, however, the sheriff asked the county to open the second pod to relieve overcrowding. Now, not quite four years after the jail opened, a third pod is being readied.
Oxbow has been a victim of the restrictions applied to it. Because of the opposition nearby residents had to its construction, the jail has been limited to misdemeanant and nonviolent felony offenders. That means it hasn't always been much relief for the county's downtown jail.
In spite of that, it has filled alarmingly quickly. No doubt, much of the growth can be attributed to the population increase. However, county residents shouldn't be satisfied with that explanation. Neighborhoods, communities and politicians must unite to find remedies.
The county is constructing a new jail just west of I-15 along 3300 South to replace the main one downtown. But it won't be ready to receive prisoners until 1998.
With that in mind, the county had little choice but to open Pod C. Still, its opening should be applauded. It could serve as a noticeable deterrent for petty criminals.