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SALT LAKE COUNTY -- Last week's highly publicized bust of more than 200 accused criminalsnear Pioneer Park> has exposed a big problem in local government. Our reporting established many of those arrested wound up back on the streets, some within hours, because of jail overcrowding. Now serious questions have arisen over what some hoped would be the solution.
Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder hopes to open the long-unused Oxbow Jail later this year. But this week the county council ordered sharp budget cuts. It's not clear if Winder will have enough money to use the jail as a safety valve for overcrowding.
Cop cars don't have revolving doors, but the county jail seems to. It's because no one knows what to do with all the people arrested by police. Salt Lake County Councilman Max Burdick was disturbed when he visited the jail last weekend. He said, "[It's] not only full, but it almost looked like detainees were on top of each other. It's not a good situation."
Inmates were let go in what Burdick calls a steady parade walking toward a nearby store. He said, "I understand there were some nonviolent felons that were released this weekend, which is a concern."
Among those snagged in the police sweep was Andrew Joseph Hummel. He was arrested Wednesday and released within five hours, re-arrested on a new offense Friday and re-released that night.
Civil Rights attorney Brian Barnard said, "It seems to me that what they're doing is more in the nature of harassment rather than enforcement."
To Barnard, it's just another messy failure in a decades-long war we can't seem to win: the war on drugs. "A revolving door at the county jail doesn't seem to be solving the problem," he said. "We need to look into solutions."
Councilman Burdick's says more jail space is one solution, even with the county's budget crisis. "I believe public safety has to be No. 1," he said. "And it appears to me, right now, everything I've seen, everything I've witnessed, Oxbow needs to be opened."
Barnard doesn't think more jail space is the answer. Barnard explained, "More jails don't seem to be solving the problem either. Rehabilitation seems to me what we should be looking at."
Winder now has to decide if his reduced budget can handle the additional jail capacity at the Oxbow Jail. One ominous thought is that some expect the deepening recession to trigger even more crime.