Grand County commissioners denied a request this week from the sheriff to shut down the jail and transport all county prisoners to San Juan County until plans for a new jail are solidified.
Grand County Sheriff Jim Nyland recommended closing the city-county jail Monday in response to the defeat in a special election last week of a $4.5 million bond issue for new jail and courthouse facilities.Nyland said the county is no longer in a position to defend against possible lawsuits by inmates over violations of life-safety codes at the 16-bed facility. The sheriff said in a letter to commissioners Oct. 29 that closing the jail might seem drastic, but he did not want to be held liable if someone sues.
His recommendation was based on inspections by state officials that indicated jail facilities do not meet minimum requirements for housing and detention of prisoners. Gary DeLand, director of the Utah Department of Corrections, conducted the latest inspection Monday morning with the county building inspector.
"My recommendation, and this is bottom line, is that we not hold any people for incarceration in our facility, because of the conditions we have . . . and due to the personal liability and liability placed on the county," Nyland told commissioners at their regular meeting.
DeLand and a half-dozen other officials from state corrections, public safety and the fire marshal's office attended the meeting, as did city, county and 7th District Court officials.
DeLand told commissioners he ordered state prisoners removed from the jail Wednesday, the day after the bond election, because of the risk of lawsuits. When inmates have heart attacks, commit suicide or are injured in fires or fights with cellmates, lawsuits can result, he said.
"Nobody can tell you when or if you're going to be sued," he said. "It's like lightning. It strikes when it's ready and you can't know when that will happen."
Grand County received about $55,000 over the past year for housing state prisoners, DeLand said. Those revenues would have helped pay for the proposed $2.4 million in improvements to the jail, Nyland said.
In his letter, the sheriff said the situation at the jail had been defensible while the county was actively attempting to find financing for a new facility.
"Now that the plan is suspended . . . and since we have admitted in public hearings and in the news media that we are aware that we are violating the civil rights of incarcerated individuals by providing less than legal facilities, we do not have a defensible position in case of a civil suit."
Nyland recommended transporting all prisoners to the San Juan County jail in Monticello. Female prisoners are currently sent to San Juan, because Grand County does not have segregated cells.
He recommended notifying the city that the county would no longer accept prisoners from police.
Commissioner Ferne Mullen said defeat of the bond issue did not mean the building plans were dropped.
Transportation, housing, medical and other costs for contracting with San Juan to take local prisoners would total about $275,000 a year, Nyland said after the meeting.
After more than an hour of discussion, Mullen and Commissioner David Knutson decided to keep the jail operating a couple more weeks while they study feasibility of alternative plans.
Nyland said after the meeting that five or six improvements to meet fire and health codes at the jail would be made in the meantime, at a cost of about $25,000.