If you have five or 10 acres of fallow land, and wouldn't mind a few hundred inmates in your backyard, Salt Lake County Sheriff Aaron Kennard would like to talk to you.
"If I had five to 10 acres, I could pour some cement and put up 15 to 20 portables and we could house 100 to 200 inmates out there in the middle of nowhere," Kennard said.Pressed by the expected wave of summer crime and a jail crammed with prisoners, Kennard pitched the idea to Salt Lake Mayor Dee-dee Corradini and Salt Lake Police Chief Ruben Ortega this week. Each said they are taking the offer seriously.
Kennard asked Monday to use city land next to the airport. The city bought and vacated the land in the '80s, largely because FAA regulations won't let people live in the flight path of an international airport, said Ken Connaughton, spokesman for Corradini.
This week's question: Does that apply to inmates? The city is checking with the feds, as well as finding out if sewer and water service are available there, Connaughton said.
The city is also looking at other sites, Ortega said.
"I don't want to say where because we haven't had a chance to talk to the surrounding community. We don't want to surprise anybody. We are obviously looking for an area where there would be almost no resistance from neighbors and it would meet code. We want to get the land turned over to Aaron as quickly as possible."
Corradini in her budget presentation Tuesday said fighting crime here is one of her top priorities. Jail space is key to that battle, Connaughton said. "We won't dismiss any proposal out of hand. We are giving this a hard, close look to see if it will work."
The county has resorted to a variety of creative measures in the past. Last year, it converted the 10th floor of the Metropolitan Hall of Justice to a temporary women's prison after the city's prostitution problem reached crisis stage.
The ninth floor is being converted into a men's prison, and the county is spending an additional $200,000 to finish a block at the Oxbow Jail in South Salt Lake.
Those three measures will give the county 264 beds, said Salt Lake County Sheriff's Sgt. Jim Potter. When the ninth floor and Oxbow are done, much of the crime threat around Pioneer Park and the Rio Grande area will be eased, he said.
"We hope those will be done by September."
But not in time for the summer crime wave. So the county commission earlier this year promised Kennard another $300,000 to prompt-ly begin housing additional inmates if he could figure out how to do it. After rejecting empty downtown warehouses as too insecure to hold prisoners, Kennard hit upon the idea of using open land.
Rumblings at City Hall over the inmate crisis put added pressure on the county. The city went public this week with possible plans to build its own jail in the future.
Kennard believes that's just frustration talking. The county's $105 million jail will be done by December 1998, he said. "If the city thinks they can get a jail on line sooner than we are, I'd like to see how they are going to do it."
The county is faced with an inmate crisis now because it waited nearly five years too long before starting on a jail, he said. The county should have started in 1990. If residents can just hold tight for 18 more months, the crime problem will ease when the county's 2,000 beds are done, he said.
The city's residents won't tolerate the expense of a city jail when they are already shelling out $105 million for the county jail, he predicted. "That would require a tax increase. It would be double taxation," Kennard said.