An electronically monitored system of house arrest may become an alternative to jail for some offenders but can never replace the need for a new jail, corrections officials and consultants told judges this week.
Meanwhile, Salt Lake County commissioners confirmed their intention to call a special election for May 23 to ask voter approval of a general obligation bond issue - and a corresponding property tax increase - to fund construction of a minimum security jail.During a meeting at the Utah State Bar office, county officials briefed local circuit and district judges on the proposed jail, a county corrections master plan now under development and alternatives to jail sentences.
House arrest - the sentencing of some types of misdemeanor offenders to home confinement and monitoring them by means of an electronic bracelet at a cost of $10-$15 a day - is touted by some opponents of the jail bond as a way to relieve overcrowding pressures at the existing jail, thus eliminating the need for the proposed facility.
"The time is coming that you'll have to look at home confinement," state Rep. Beverly White, D-Tooele, told the group. "As a legislator I hear people every day say no more taxes. If your bond issue passes it'll be a miracle."
But house arrest is no panacea, others warned.
"What do you do with (house arrest) violators?" asked county attorney David Yocom. "You have to put them in jail, and that means you need jail beds to put them in."
"You need both (house arrest and jail)," said Hank Duffie, former Maricopa County, Ariz., corrections chief and now a corrections consultant. "You have to have a balance of the two."
Yocom has argued with opponents of the proposed jail that the house-arrest sentencing option is already available to judges, but few ever use it. At best, a house arrest system mostly would include offenders who likely are eligible for other alternatives to a jail sentence, like probation.
"The issue is whether you as judges want to use (house arrest) instead of sending people to jail," Utah Court of Appeals Judge Judith Billings told her colleagues on the bench.
Construction of the proposed 350-bed minimum security facility would free about 250 beds in the existing jail, Yocom said. The cost of housing those 250 low-risk prisoners would drop from $35 per day per inmate at the downtown jail to $20 per day at the new jail.
But Dave Bennett, a corrections consultant developing a jail master plan for Salt Lake County, said even with a new minimum security facility freeing that many beds in the existing medium-maximum security facility, more medium-maximum jail space will be needed by the mid-1990's.
Earlier Wednesday, county commissioners officially informed the county clerk's office to prepare for a May 23 jail bond election. The resolution officially calling that election is scheduled for the April 12 commission meeting.