Even if county officials were able to open the Utah County Security Center in July, as originally planned, it still wouldn't be soon enough for the American Civil Liberties Union.

On Monday, the ACLU of Utah filed a lawsuit against Utah County in District Court. The suit was filed on behalf of two inmates at the Utah County Jail, Diego Gonzales and Jedediah Bennett, and alleges that overcrowding at the old jail in Provo has violated the two men's civil rights."Overcrowding not only exacerbates, but, in fact, is the root cause for many deficient and inhumane conditions at the jail," said ACLU staff attorney Jensie Anderson. "The overcrowding overtaxes virtually every constitutionally required support system and service and creates a harmful and intolerable environment for both staff and inmates in the facility and cannot continue."

The ACLU is seeking an injunction to limit the inmate population at the Utah County Jail. The jail was built to house 172 inmates, but with some increased space - obtained by removing some administrative offices - it has averaged 250 inmates and reached a high of 289 last year.

Utah County officials, though, have been unable to open the new security center in Spanish Fork to relieve the crowding. That $22 million facility was supposed to open this summer, with nearly double the capacity of the old jail.

But the county, which has had to trim services because of budgetary shortfalls, does not have the $2.5 million needed to pay for operating costs and staffing at the new jail - especially after voters rejected a property-tax increase to pay those expenses last year.

"We've been doing everything humanly and legally possible to solve the problem," Utah County Sheriff Dave Bateman said. "We've tried different programs and other things to reduce the populations and had a little bit of success. Apparently it wasn't enough. But this does add a little incentive."

Bateman said he and other jail officials would like to meet with the Utah County Commission to discuss their options. According to Anderson, ACLU officials might back off if county leaders can give them a date when the new jail will open.

"The jail has been overcrowded for quite some time now, and we're still not seeing any relief," she said. "We can't continually put off the suit for promises that haven't materialized."

County commissioners are waiting to see if the Legislature holds a special session to give counties the power to increase sales tax before they commit funding to open the security center. They can raise property-tax rates to help open the jail in early 1997, after holding discussions and truth-in-taxation hearings.

"We were hoping to avoid a lawsuit because things are so close to being solved," Commissioner Gary Herbert said. "Now the worst thing that could happen is if we have to settle the suit before we correct the problem."

Herbert and Bateman said they fear the county could be forced to open the jail early and with federal staffing levels - which would cost more than double what county leaders are projecting - or that the taxpayers will have to pay for a prolonged lawsuit.

"If we have to pay attorney fees for this, it will be just like flushing money down a rathole," Bateman said. "But I'm convinced we can resolve (the lawsuit) by making a real, good-faith effort."