The problem of overcrowding at the Salt Lake County Jail has reached the level of an emergency. Today county council members gave an initial OK to reopen the nearby Oxbow jail, but there's a catch.
That catch is the cost: $650,000 is what county officials estimate it will cost just to get the jail in shape to reopen, and $5.5 million a year to operate it from there on.
But the thing is, no one really thinks there's any alternative to opening the Oxbow jail, or at least a portion of it, right now.
The main jail is chronically overcrowded by hundreds of inmates each month. An average of 800 inmates are released early every month in order to ease pressure there.
Today the county council seems poised to OK reopening one pod of the Oxbow jail. The price tag is hefty, but it may cost more in the long run to do nothing.
"That's just the fact. The population in this county is such that we need more jail space. How we deal with them when they're incarcerated is another subject. We are fans of alternatives and to program these individuals. This isn't a warehousing," said Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder.
Salt Lake County Councilwoman Jenny Wilson said, "We need to open up this facility at some point. Is this the right time? I think so. But only if we dedicate this facility to something other than ‘put ‘em in and throw away the key.'"
The Oxbow jail has always been a work release center in the past but has been closed for several years. If reopened, the jail would be a home of alternative approaches to serving time -- things like treatment and work release.
The council will make a final vote on this situation sometime next week. At this point, it seems poised to be a go to reopen one pod. But there really isn't any alternative even as the council members debate the issue.