County officials opened the new $3.8 million Tooele County Detention Center Thursday and plan to start moving prisoners to the new jail next week.

Opening the new facility will solve overcrowding problems in the existing county jail, which was designed for 32 inmates but had 37 on Thursday and has had as many as 45 in recent months, said Sgt. Ron Baum, jail commander with the Tooele County Sheriff's Department.Sheriff Don Proctor said the existing jail, adjacent to the new facility, will be gutted once the prisoners are moved and remodeled in a second phase primarily for support services. The second phase will also accommodate as many as 12 weekend and work-release prisoners, bringing the facility's overall capacity to 76.

The main portion of the new jail is divided into five "pods" - one for women and four for male minimum and maximum security areas. The design is unique for jails with fewer than 100 cell spaces and has drawn national attention to the facility, Baum said. Other new, smaller jails are likely to imitate the design, he said.

Design techniques allow a jailer in a central control center to observe the common areas of each of the surrounding pods and control doors, water and electrical functions.

The jail also includes a meeting room that can be used for religious services, Alcoholics Anonymous or narcotics rehabilitation meetings and for satellite education programs planned through Tooele public schools.

County Attorney Ron Elton headed a Criminal Justice Advisory Board that has been studying jail expansion proposals since 1986. "We were warned that a new facility would fill up immediately," he said, and that county officials would have to incorporate alternatives to incarceration with their plans for a new jail facility.

The county's first priority will be to house its own prisoners. Space may be made available for state or federal prisoners, if it is free, Baum said.

The county used a $1 million grant and $2.5 million loan from the state Community Impact Board and $700,000 from county revenues to build the new facility. County Commissioner Leland Hogan said paying for a jail is politically unpopular but emphasized the project was undertaken without requiring a tax increase.