The Utah County Jail Advisory Committee says a jail with 298 beds should meet the county's needs for at least 10 years if alternatives to incarceration are developed for some criminals.
The committee, comprised of local law enforcement agents, judges and elected officials, instructed officials from the Utah County sheriff's office last week to move forward with plans for a bigger facility. The recommendation came after David Bennett, a Salt Lake jail consultant, told committee members that the county's population will continue to increase and so will the number of criminals.Even though the committee says a bigger jail is needed, one will not necessarily be built: The county must still find a way to finance one. The most likely financing method will be bonding, which could go to voters sometime this summer.
Bennett's recommendation comes after several months of research into trends in the county's and nation's jail population. Based on that data and county population projections, Bennett came up with several possible scenarios for the county's future jail needs.
If jail admissions continue to increase at the current rate for the next 20 years, the county may need a jail with about 700 beds. However, if the average length of stay at the jail is minimized and if alternatives to admissions are developed, the county may only need a jail with about 300 beds.
Most committee members said alternatives to jail admission can and should be developed. Construction of a detoxification unit for detention of those arrested for public intoxication or driving under the influence of alcohol may reduce the amount of jail space needed by 20 percent.
Other alternatives to booking and faster court processing could also reduce the amount of jail space needed. Law-enforcement officials said a countywide plan can be implemented in which many, mainly traffic offenders, could be cited and released, mainly traffic offenders.
"That would give us a little breathing room," said Owen Quarnberg, corrections bureau commander.
Using the booking alternatives, the committee said the county should build a jail with 298 beds. The facility should be built in a modular way to make future expansion easy and it should have a core facility to serve a 700-bed unit.
Committee members said that county residents probably will not support financing a larger facility. However, if local taxpayers can see that officials are trying to keep the jail population down they will be more likely to support a smaller facility.
Quarnberg said the committee's recommendations will be turned over to Edwards and Daniels Associates, the Salt Lake planning firm hired by the county last year to conduct a needs assessment for a county jail. Edwards will determine if needs could be met by expanding the current county jail or if a new facility needs to be built.
"I don't believe this facility can accommodate the programs we will need in the future," Quarnberg said.
Jail officials have already determined the type of jail programs that should be offered and how many beds to designate for each classification of criminal. Edwards will draw up several preliminary designs for a new jail and will present them to the committee within the next two months. Once committee members agree on a design, a site must be selected. From there the issue likely will be taken to the voters. Quarnberg said it may be four years before the county has a jail facility that will meet the county's needs.
The crowded Utah County Jail needs to expand, an advisory committee says.
Current capacity 150 beds
Within 10 years 298 beds
in 20 years 700 beds