Salt Lake County wants to build a new 350-bed jail for misdemeanor offenders on the former Vitro tailings site near the Central Valley Water Reclamation sewage treatment plant at 650 W. 33rd South.
County Commissioner Mike Stewart pitched the idea to the reclamation facility's board Wednesday, proposing the county acquire the necessary 15 to 20 acres by trading county land or the labor of future jail inmates for treatment-plant property.The board had questions about the jail proposal, potential liability and the structure of any trade deal, but had no immediate objections and appointed a committee to study the concept.
"Nobody wants them in their neighborhood," Stewart said of jails. But the relative isolation of the proposed jail site from residential areas makes it an acceptable location.
The surrounding industrial area and old Vitro site, from which radioactive tailings were hauled away last year, provide a natural buffer for the proposed facility, which could occupy the southeast corner of the reclamation facility's 150 acres.
Stewart's proposal is for a jail more like an Army barrack or a college dormitory than a brick-and-bars facility like the downtown jail in the Metropolitan Hall of Justice.
The low-profile jail buildings would be surrounded by a chain-link fence instead of barbed wire, and inmates would live in rooms rather than in cells. A recent task force report said the proposed facility would reduce inmate population in the downtown jail and separate low-risk prisoners from those who pose higher risks.
Another county committee is now exploring building costs, designs and ways to finance construction of the proposed jail.
Only carefully screened misdemeanor offenders, such those allowed out for work-release programs, would be sentenced to the facility and any who caused disciplinary problems would be sent to the medium-maximum security jail downtown.
The inmates, in exchange for good-behavior time off their sentences, could provide a volunteer work force to perform tasks not requiring special skills for the sewage plant, Stewart said.
While initial development would require only five acres, the county hopes to expand the misdemeanor offender facility to a 500-inmate capacity, which would require about 20 acres, Stewart said.
Board members said they hope to market the reclaimed Vitro site as industrial property in an effort to offset some of the expense of depositing the tailings at a Tooele County waste dump. Stewart said development of a "factory-with-a-fence" jail would not preclude such a marketing plan.
The county hopes to have construction of the jail under way by next spring, Stewart said. But the project must clear a number of hurdles before building can begin.
Among the questions:
-Can the county afford to build the facility if three tax-limitation initiatives receive voter approval on Nov. 8?
-If the initiatives do not pass, will voters be willing to approve a general obligation bond - and a corresponding property tax increase - to pay for construction of the new jail?
-Will South Salt Lake give local Planning Commission approval for the facility?
-How long will it take the U.S. Department of Energy to certify the site for use?
-How will the county's proposal to settle the long-running feud with cities over who pays for incarceration of city prisoners in the county jail fit in with the jail-construction proposal?