Salt Lake County Commissioner Mike Stewart is after state officials to either pay up or move state prisoners out of the Salt Lake County Jail.
Stewart says the county is being forced to build a new jail to make room for misdemeanor offenders while the Utah State Prison has an entire wing of cells sitting empty.But prison officials say judges have specifically sentenced the inmates in question to serve sentences in the county jail, leaving the state powerless to incarcerate them in the state prison.
In a letter sent Wednesday to Gov. Norm Bangerter, Senate President Arnold Christensen and Speaker of the House Glen E. Brown, Stewart says there are about 185 state prisoners in the county jail and 192 unused beds at the prison.
"Here we are under the pressure to build a misdemeanant jail when we do have jail space that is available that is not being used or funded," Stewart told the Deseret News.
In his letter, Stewart says the state is reimbursing the county for about one-third of the cost of housing state prisoners. "This situation is forcing us in Salt Lake County to relocate and build a new facility at the expense of the local property tax because the state is not caring for its own prisoners."
The problem is not new. Each year the state pays counties for state prisoners housed in county jails - both prisoners sent to the county lock-ups on contract and those who are given short-term commitments for problems such as parole violations.
Each year the state budget includes money to pay counties for state prisoners, but there is never enough, said Haze Locke, deputy inspector general.
While corrections officials agree money from the Legislature is inadequate to fully reimburse counties for the prisoners they house, they don't completely agree that the state has space available to transfer prisoners from the Salt Lake County Jail to the state prison in Draper. "We may have the space available, but it might be in maximum security instead of in a lower-level inmate facility," Haze said.
Corrections spokesman Juan Benavidez said the state could not accept the prisoners in question at the Draper facility because judges have specified their terms are to be spent in the county jail. "If the courts would have sentenced those individuals to prison, then that's different."