Overcrowding May Force Drastic Measures at SL County Jail

Overcrowding May Force Drastic Measures at SL County Jail

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Debbie Dujanovik reporting An overcrowded system has reached a crisis stage. And for criminals that could mean "get out of jail free."

The Salt Lake County Jail is bursting, and the sheriff is looking at taking drastic measures. That could mean more criminals on the streets as soon as this weekend.

Not enough jail cells, and too many criminals. The jail is 70 shy of capacity.

When it hits the 2000 mark, perhaps as soon as this weekend, the sheriff is ready to restrict who he takes in, and even close the doors to people who commit some serious crimes.

Someone commits a crime in your neighborhood. You'd expect police to haul them to jail. But once officers arrive, they may have to set that crook free.

Salt Lake County's four-year-old facility is almost full and the Sheriff is in a bind.

Sheriff Aaron Kennard/ Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office: "If we don't do something I'm going to simply have to close the front door."

Closing the doors to new criminals is one of his immediate solutions. He's also on the verge of turning away men who commit certain misdemeanor crimes, like shoplifting, resisting arrest, simple assault. He's already doing that with women.

Sheriff Aaron Kennard: "We've implemented booking restrictions on women, where we can only take certain kinds of crime. We will be instituting the same restrictions on men within a week to two weeks."

The long-term solution-- an overhaul of Utah's criminal system.

Dr. Alan Kalmanoff is releasing his study on crowding troubles. It says the problem is too many judges putting criminals behind bars with little or no space left.

He proposes a radical new law, allowing law enforcement, not a judge, to decide a criminal's fate.

Alan Kalmanoff/ Executive Director, Law & Policy Planning: "Sentence this bad person to a certain number of days in the system to the custody of the sheriff."

That way, he says, a sheriff can monitor jail crowding and shift inmates into other programs so no one gets set free before doing the time.

Judges aren't thrilled with the idea. A spokesman says they take sentencing very seriously and are reluctant to turn it over.

With this jail jammed, Sheriff Kennard will now ask the county council to reopen the Oxbow Jail right down the street by summer.

It closed because of funding problems. It can hold up to 500 criminals.

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