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JAIL OFFICIALS STILL HAVE HANDS FULL

Despite a massive release of prisoners last week and a decision not to take those with Class B misdemeanor violations, the Salt Lake County Jail population is still only 10 beds short of capacity.

Last week the crowding got so bad that officials decided they needed to release about 80 prisoners at once. The massive release was an attempt, said one jail official, to get far enough under the federally mandated population cap that the jail wasn't releasing prisoners daily."It's an unusually large number (of prisoners) to let go at one time," Lt. John Merrick said. "Police are bringing them (prisoners) in faster than we can let them go. We just don't have anywhere to put peo-ple."

Jail officials have released more than 100 prisoners since last Saturday, not including the 80 people released from 6 p.m. to midnight last Wednesday. Merrick said they usually don't let that many go at one time.

"We're keeping an extra four people on overtime just to deal with (the releases)," Merrick said.

Merrick estimated 40 of those released were in jail on felony charges, while the others were charged with misdemeanors.

Even with Wednesday's mass release, Merrick said, "We're still barely treading water."

In fact, Lt. Robert Beemus said they released another 15 felons on Sunday, despite the booking restrictions and the mass release on Wednesday. The jail was 10 inmates away from filling all of its general population beds, and about 50 inmates away from filling every bed, including all medical beds, Beemus said.

The Salt Lake County Jail is under a federal court order thatforces officials to release prisoners once the facility hits capacity, which is a little over 700 prisoners.

County residents have voted to spend $120 million on a new jail, which could hold an additional 500 to 1500 beds. But the new jail isn't scheduled to open for at least three years.