The most common complaint that law enforcement officials hear is that criminals are not spending enough time in jail.
But are the people doing the complaining willing to pay the costs of keeping criminals in jail?That is a question Utah County officials will soon have to have
answered because currently the Utah County jail is housing more criminals than it legally should, and officials say the county either has to build a new jail or expand the existing one. And no matter which option the county chooses, the taxpayers are going to have to foot the bill.
Sheriff David Bateman says the jail is meeting new highs on admission and incarceration rates every month. By using all available space, Bateman says the jail can house 150 inmates at one time. But during one period last month the jail housed 167 inmates.
To help decide what type of jail facility would best meet the county's future jail needs, the county has contracted with a justice consultant and has organized a jail advisory committee. County officials have said they would at least like a jail that would meet the county's needs until the year 2010 or longer.
By studying past and current jail figures and by classifying the types of prisoners housed at the jail and their average time of stay, justice consultant David Bennett recently presented to the committee projections of the county's future jail needs.
"It's these variables that are going to drive the size of the future county jail," Bennett said.
Bennett said the county has the lowest admission and incarceration rates in the country. But he said if those rates continue to increase annually at their current rate, and if the county's population continues to grow at the current rate, the county would need a jail with more than 500 beds.
However, Bennett said that with certain management strategies the county could build a much smaller jail. With more than 80 percent of the county's violations being alcohol- and drug-related, he said a central intake facility could be used to refer some prisoners to a more appropriate facility.
"Alcohol indeed is the No. 1 issue surrounding individuals who are booked into the Utah County jail," Bennett said.Many of the jail's inmates are misdemeanor offenders and are incarcerated for pretrial reasons. He said more offenders should be released on their own recognizance and court processing times should be quickened.
"Once we've got their attention, let's get them into court," Bennett said.
Bennett also recommended that the county have in place a permanent criminal justice advisory board, use sentencing alternatives and have a more accessible criminal justice information system.
"We need to have a mechanism in place so that when the jail reaches capacity it can kick in and give us some relief," he said.
Bateman said he favored building a larger jail because of the county's changing demographics. He said past jail expansions have not kept pace with the increasing jail demands.
"We thought we were going to have enough beds to last into the next century and already we've surpassed those projections several times over," Bateman said. "I think we better assume a worst-case scenario."
Some members of the jail advisory committee agreed with Bateman, especially those who recently toured a jail in Denver. That jail was designed to meet Denver's needs for 20 years and is already filling up. Some fear a similar situation would happen in Utah County if the county builds a jail too small.
However, many committee members said the county must plan on building a jail with a size and cost that people will support. Provo Mayor Joe Jenkins said the county must also prove efficiency in its current jail operations before citizens will support building a new one.
The committee agreed that citizens are more likely to support a more moderate jail that could be expanded if necessary. The committee instructed Bennett to proceed with plans for a jail that would house between 296 and 356 prisoners.
Bennett will now meet with programmers and architects to design a jail according to the committee's desires. He is meeting with jail officials this week to determine what kind of programs the jail should offer.
A final plan should be presented to the committee within the next two months, at which time the committee will decide if the jail's costs are feasible, and where and when it should be built. Bateman said he hopes a final decision can be made by January.
Average Daily Population at Utah County Jail
Utah County Jail Annual Admissions
Approximate Admission Forecasts