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Big jail's still on line for October opening
But electronics system, hiring pose challenges

It's not Y2K problems, and it's not because Chief Deputy Sheriff Dan Ipson and his colleagues designed various electronic components themselves.

The security electronics system inside the new Salt Lake County Jail that was supposed to be complete by May 31 is still not finished but not for any complicated reason. The San Antonio-based subcontractor just isn't done yet."Everybody's posturing for who's to blame," said Ipson, who updated the County Commission Tuesday on the jail's construction. Reason for the infighting: There's a $3,000-per-day fine for every day the work isn't complete.

The delay is significantly complicating matters -- the jail's entire computer network is waiting on completion of the security electronics. But Ipson, who is directing the jail's construction at 3300 South and 700 West, said the problem won't delay the jail's planned October opening.

"I feel good about how things are going," he said.

Take a look around the jail and your first impressions are these: big and grim. High, gray concrete walls. Long, long tunnels. Vast, confusing pods and cell blocks.

"I think everybody we've had in there is impressed, after they get lost a little bit, with how big it is," Ipson said.

A recent meeting of the Salt Lake Council of Governments included a tour of the jail, complete with lunch on metal tables and trials of the bunks. The consensus of the mayors and county commissioners in attendance: not a place you'd like to stay in for long.

While Ipson deals with mishaps on the construction side, Chief Deputy Dean Carr has his own problems. Carr is in charge of hiring enough personnel to man the new jail, and he's still about 200 short of the 472 correctional officers and 210 civilians he'll need to staff the place (officially known as the Salt Lake County Adult Detention Complex) and the nearby Oxbow Jail.

"It's getting pretty difficult," he said.

Correctional officers' starting pay is $27,000 per year, with civilian positions receiving somewhat less.

Other counties are hiring for similar positions, as well as the state, making Carr's job harder. He has been in hiring mode for three years and has to hurry to complete the process before the jail opens. It takes five months to process a correctional officer application, plus 13 weeks of academy training, plus additional time shadowing a senior officer.

Fewer than 10 percent of applicants make it through the process, meaning Carr has to receive 1,000 applications for the approximately 100 correctional officer positions he needs.

Applicants must fill out a detailed application, submit to a written general aptitude test, physical fitness tests (1 1/2-mile run, push-ups, that sort of thing), a polygraph test and a personal history form detailing their employment, residences, friends -- basically everything about them going back to their entry into this world.

The county then conducts detailed background checks on the applicants. "By the time we're done, we know more about these guys than they know about themselves," Carr said.

Carr would have to hire a lot more people, except the County Commission only budgeted enough money this year to open two of the jail's four pods. There is land on the site to build four more.

Along with and next to the jail, the county is ramping up to build an $8 million emergency operations and communications center, which will house fire administration, police and fire dispatchers and facilities necessary in case of earthquake or other natural disaster.

The county is also building a $3.1 million special operations/evidence storage building nearby.