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MAKE SURE NEW JAIL IS ADEQUATE

The last thing Salt Lake County residents need is to worry that an expensive new jail won't be big enough to handle all the criminals contributing to a booming crime rate.

A lot of the current hand-wringing over construction costs is, admittedly, premature. The new jail still is in an early design phase, and construction won't start until autumn. But county leaders ought to decide now to do whatever is necessary to build a facility adequate for the foreseeable future, regardless of costs.County residents are weary of hearing about prisoners who are let loose because of overcrowding concerns and then commit horrible crimes. They are tired of stories about prostitutes flooding the area from other parts of the nation because the word is out that Salt Lake County has no room for them in its jail.

They are so weary and tired that last year they approved a $120 million bond to build a new jail - with an overwhelming 87 percent of those who cast ballots voting in favor.

County officials had hoped to build for $80 million so they could avoid a tax increase. But earlier this week architects said the cost may be more like $97 million. The project management team said the only way to save money would be to cut out one of the jail-cell pods, reducing the number of beds from about 2,000 to 1,376.

Considering law-enforcement officials expect to fill 1,000 beds the moment the jail opens, this would be a distressing decision - one that soon would put the county back in the same overcrowded mess it is trying so hard to escape.

No one knows yet whether construction costs truly will exceed estimates, but the likelihood is great considering the current building boom along the Wasatch Front. If the county commission decides to build a smaller jail, it would be deferring an inevitable expansion to a future commission and to a time when costs are higher.

The best course would be to build what is needed today, even if costs reach the full $120 million approved by voters, and even if it means enduring a small tax increase. Otherwise, the soaring crime rate will take its toll on county residents in other ways.