The accommodations may not be as nice as a local bed and breakfast inn, but the Utah County Jail has become just about as popular.
Since 1986, the jail's average daily population has swollen from 92.6 to last year's average of 118.8; the average for women nearly doubled during the same period, jumping from 4.3 to 8.2.Following drug raids Monday morning, the jail's population was 131 - six more than its capacity of 125. A resulting shortage of supervisory personnel paved the way for the escape Monday afternoon of an inmate from the jail's outdoor recreation area.
The increasing number of jail inmates leaves county officials with two choices: remodel the existing jail to accommodate more inmates, or build a new facility designed to meet growing inmate populations.
"My staff and I can only do so much, and we have reached the point where relief is necessary," Sheriff Dave Bateman told Commission Chairman Brent Morris in a recent letter. "Utah County is sitting on a powder keg, and when it explodes, (it) will make budget concerns at the present appear insignificant by comparison."
Without a tax increase, Utah County likely will be faced with a revenue shortfall next year. To help make ends meet, commissioners are expected to lay off as many as 35 county employees before year's end.
However, additional manpower and money are needed if the county wants to continue running what Bateman calls "a constitutional jail." As a result of overcrowding, some inmates have to sleep on the floor or are housed improperly with serious offenders even though they may have committed only minor infractions.
"It's not getting any better. It continues to worsen," Bateman said. "If we exceed 80 percent of the jail's capacity, we're faced with a situation where we cannot run a constitutional jail."
The sheriff's department has requested recommendations from the National Institute of Corrections, which will update a 4-year-old study on alternatives to meet the growing inmate population. Recommendations _ either remodeling or building a new jail _ then will be presented to commissioners.
In light of budget shortfalls, deciding what to do won't be easy, Bateman said. A new jail would solve overcrowding problems on a long-term basis, but revenue and personnel shortfalls might dictate that the county remodel the current facility.
"What good is an additional facility if we don't have the staff to man it? I don't have adequate staff now," Bateman said. "Why obligate the taxpayers that much more" through a general obligation bond to fund construction of a new jail?
"That's something I'm having a real test over within myself _ trying to determine whether I could support the construction of a new jail and the necessity of initiating a bond issue to pay for it," he said. "I just haven't made up my mind which would be the best way to go."
Bateman said voters may oppose bonding to build a new jail, especially in light of the recent construction of the Utah County Regional Government Center. The County Commission issued $13 million in lease revenue bonds to fund construction of the new building.
"I'm not sure a bond issue for a new jail in Utah County would pass at this time," he said.
If county officials decide a new jail is needed, the issue could go to voters as early as this fall.