Before the ground is even broken on the $105 million Salt Lake County Jail, Salt Lake City has decided it may want its own jail.
After months of rumbling at city hall, Salt Lake Mayor Deedee Cor-radini announced Tuesday that the city is going to commission a study to look at the city's long-range jail needs, with the possibility of a city jail on the horizon.Salt Lake Police Chief Ruben Ortega and Salt Lake City Council member Stuart Reid praised her proposal.
Crime in the city increased 16 percent last year, Ortega said. "I lay that at the feet of not having enough jail space. Our murders are at an all-time high. Several were committed by people who had been held in jail but were released because of overcrowding."
Imagine how many burglaries, robberies and thefts were committed by such people, he said.
The current jail situation is intolerable, Corradini told the council Tuesday. Fewer than 40 percent of those arrested are sent to jail because there aren't enough jail beds. "Most of those who are booked (into jail) are back on the street within 24 hours."
"We should be booking about 80 percent of those we arrest," Ortega said.
Drug dealers, prostitutes and other criminals are becoming increasingly bold in their crimes because they know they face little chance of immediate jail time, she said. Citizens are frightened.
"In my district, there is no issue, not one, that comes close to the magnitude of the crime issue," Reid told the mayor. "I believe in the long run, we'll have to have our own jail. The only way to control our own destiny is to control who is arrested and how long they are incarcerated. We owe that to the police department."
The city will continue to work with the county on the 1,800-bed jail under construction, Corradini said. It will also work with the county to solve the immediate space crisis until the new jail is finished.
But the time has come to look at the city's own jail, she told the council. "We will find a way to solve this problem; we refuse to let it beat us," Corradini said.
If the city is considering its own jail, it hasn't done its research, said Salt Lake County Deputy Chief Dan Ipson. Running a jail is as demanding as running a second city.
"I know what it costs to run a jail," Ortega said. "The costs can be prohibitive, as well as the liability. On the other hand, you have control. . . . You don't rely on another entity to meet your housing needs for prisoners."
The county's 1,800 beds are scheduled for completion in December 1998. But Ortega said he didn't think the county jail could be done on time. He is dismayed by reports of ground problems and architectural delays.
Ipson disagreed. "The stabilization we are doing on the ground should not impact the opening the jail at all. We are still going for the December 1998 date."
"I think that's being very optimistic. I hope they're right, but I don't think it will happen," Ortega said.
The county can easily fill the new jail if the city decides to eventually build its own, Ipson said. Currently, city prisoners account for one-third of the jail population, Ortega said.