Before Salt Lake County seeks voter approval for a tax hike to build a new jail, the county will first ask judges to consider home confinement as an alternative to jail sentences for some misdemeanor offenders.

Utah law allows judges to hand out "house arrest" sentences in lieu of jail time, but only one Salt Lake County judge consistently sentences misdemeanants - typically drunken driving offenders - to home confinement.The county and other local jurisdictions have a good record when it comes to utilizing other sentencing alternatives - such as work release or community service time - in place of jail for misdemeanor offenders.

But with an crowded metro jail and plans in the works for a spring bond election that could provide $8 million to $10 million to build a new facility for low risk prisoners, Salt Lake County wants to take a hard look at the home confinement alternative.

"We have to exhaust all the options if we expect the public to approve a jail bond," County Commission chairman Mike Stewart recently told a meeting of the county's Criminal Justice Advisory Council, a group of judges, corrections officials and prosecutors.

Stewart cautions that the increased use of home confinement sentencing would not eliminate the need for the proposed 350-bed minimum security facility in South Salt Lake. But it could be another sentencing option that may help hold down future jail populations and reduce the county's cost of housing prisoners -figured at $37.50 per day for each of 550-650 inmates held daily in the downtown Metro Hall of of Justice.

The advisory council recently has heard proposals for privatized systems of home confinement from two private corrections vendors - one a non-profit organization, the other a for-profit corporation.

Both vendors said they could outfit offenders sentenced to home confinement with electronic monitoring bracelets and then monitor for violations of house arrest sentences. Both also proposed the cost of $10 per day per sentenced offender be paid by the offenders themselves.

But while the home confinement concept - which could reduce jail crowded pressures, lower incarceration costs and make offenders pay most of the program operations costs - may appeal so some, judges are unconvinced.

Third District Presiding Judge Scott Daniels said 3rd District judges have indicated they won't sentence offenders to home confinement unless the state Division of Adult Probation and Parole specifically recommends such sentences in pre-sentence reports.

"Judges depend so much on the pre-sentencing report that they aren't inclined to use (home confinement) unless AP&P buys in," Daniels said.

Officials are also concerned that having homebound offenders pay the $10 per day cost of monitoring could interfere with offenders' ability to pay court-ordered fines and restitution.

"If the payment of restitution can be affected, AP&P won't support" home confinement, said Ray Wahl, of Adult Probation and Parole. "We believe that crime victims can lose under some programs."

While the county may pay home confinement costs for indigent offenders, Wahl asks what will happen to home-confined offenders who simply refuse to pay their $10 per day cost for the program.

"We don't want the private vendor to skim the cream by dealing only with the (home confinees) who do well, while AP&P gets the garbage work of arresting the ones who don't," Wahl said.

Despite such concerns, the county feels the home confinement has enough merit to propose that judges, corrections officials, prosecutors and defense attorneys sit down together to see if they can come to some agreement on its use as a sentencing option.

"If prosecutors recommend it, AP&P recommends it and defense attorneys who want to keep their clients out of jail recommend it, then judges will use it," said County Attorney David Yocom.