It's not scare tactics, but mathematical reality: If new prisons are not built, robbers, rapists, molesters will be turned loose on the nation's streets. There are simply not enough prison cells to hold them.

Despite the fact that Utah has one of the lowest incarceration rates in the nation, there are more than twice as many inmates behind bars this year than there were in 1980.Utah follows a national trend.

A recent report by the U.S. Justice Department shows prison capacity has not kept up with an increase in drug-related arrests and stricter sentencing requirements.

At the end of 1988, a record 627,402 men and women were incarcerated nationwide, but the prison capacity was only 566,898. While the prison population has increased 7.2 percent, the prison capacity has increased just 5.5 percent.

The incarceration rate reached 244 per 100,000 residents nationwide. In 1980, the rate was 139 per 100,000.

The report attributes increases in prison population to the heightened likelihood that a serious offender will receive a prison sentence and to a 113 percent increase in the number of adults arrested for drug trafficking or manufacturing.

Western states have the highest increase in total prisoners.

As long as the public expects criminals to be put behind bars, they must be willing to pay for that protection.

To the credit of the Utah Legislature, the new Gunnison prison, under construction, received full funding of about $12 million this past session.

But Utahns must not think that our growing prison population has now been taken care of. Funds for prison operation and more facilities will be expected in the future.

Additionally, Utahns who vote for strict laws and severe punishment to keep drunken drivers off the roads should vote May 23 in support of a bond to raise $12 million for a badly needed Salt Lake County jail.

It is hypocritical of Americans - and Utahns - to demand safety from criminals while begrudging funding for prisons and jails.

The mathematical equation is simple: Stricter sentencing and increased arrests must equal more prisons.