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Prosecutors, Judges Object to Early Releases of Jail Inmates

Prosecutors, Judges Object to Early Releases of Jail Inmates



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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Overcrowding at the Salt Lake County Jail is resulting in the early release of some inmates -- a move county prosecutors and judges fear could leave the community at risk.

Among those released early in the last year were a convicted child abuser, a man convicted of assault after beating his girlfriend and a man who put a live dog in an oven.

On Friday, nine females inmates were released just two days into sentences for crimes including possession of drug paraphernalia and attempted burglary, Sheriff Jim Winder said.

"I feel like it's the tip of the iceberg," said West Valley City Prosecutor Ryan Robinson. "The community doesn't know they are a victim of a revolving door."

Robinson became aware of releases after receiving phone calls from panicked victims in three cases.

More than 30,000 people annually are booked into the 2,000-bed jail, county jail chief Rollin Cook said. Over the past six months, the jail has not held anyone arrested for misdemeanors other than domestic violence, violations of protective orders or driving under the influence.

About half of the roughly 2,800 people booked each month are released within hours, Cook said. Some are outfitted with ankle monitors, while others are referred to a day-reporting center.

Salt Lake City prosecutors Sim Gill blames the crowding problem on the County Council which controls the jail's budget.

Last year the council closed 130 unused jail beds, cutting Winder's ability to house more prisoners. He plans to ask the council to reopen the county's mothballed Oxbow Jail, a minimum security facility with 550-beds.

In the past, the council rejected a similar request from former Sheriff Aaron Kennard.

County Mayor Peter Corroon said the problem isn't yet at a crisis level.

"If the sheriff tells us that we're going to have to release violent offenders who should not be out in society, then I would support opening up more beds," Corroon said.

Winder acknowledges that the jail does what it can to legally release inmates early, usually for good behavior.

"We try to maximize good time because we are at a critical point in our jail population," Winder said.

Cook doesn't believe violent offenders are being released early, but said an "antiquated" computer system makes the reasons for early release difficult to track.

That lack of data leaves prosecutors, judges and politicians unsure about the scope of the problem.

"It's one we're trying to understand how big of an issue it is," said 3rd District Judge Robert Hilder. "We've got some questions."

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Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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