On the shores of Jordan River at 3300 South is a 500-bed jail that has only been used a few years, it's in terrific condition — and it's standing empty.
"As you can see," Salt Lake County Sheriff Aaron Kennard said to county councilmen touring the mothballed facility Tuesday, "it's like brand-new."
Oxbow Jail's status is not a testament to the law-abiding nature of Salt Lake County citizens, but that might make it figure into how officials deal with overcrowding at the state Prison in Draper.
Kennard anticipates similar crowding programs at the county jail in the not-too-distant future. Both county and state need jail space, right now.
"I don't know how (county or state corrections), but it ought to be utilized," Councilman Joe Hatch said.
The council toured Oxbow, named for its location on an oxbow in the Jordan River, in an ongoing attempt to determine whether selling it to the state for $7 million is its best option. Deputy county mayor Alan Dayton negotiated that deal with the state, but several council members are dubious, wanting more like $8.5 million or $10 million.
"I don't think there's a realistic chance that we're going to be selling this," Councilman Russell Skousen said. "It doesn't make financial sense."
Oxbow was originally built to relieve crowding in the old Metro Jail downtown, and when the new then-roomy Adult Detention Complex was built a few years ago a few blocks away, Oxbow's prisoners were transferred there.
Now, with correctional facilities filling up all over, everyone's starting to get really interested in Oxbow again. For the county, there would be complications in reopening it because of South Salt Lake use restrictions (the jail is within city limits) and because it doesn't need all of the space just yet.
For his part, Kennard is pushing hard to keep Oxbow. He preached retention to council members the entire hourlong tour.
"This is an asset for the county," he said. "It's a great facility."
The jail is built in the modern open-pod arrangement, where guards can keep an eye on several prisoners at once. The lights work, the water flows, the beds have pads on them. Chief Deputy Sheriff over corrections Paul Cunningham said it could be opened tomorrow.
"If we have this sitting here, why are we giving it away?" he asked.