The Davis County Jail, opened just seven years ago, is already filled to capacity, and judges say they may have to start releasing prisoners early if something is not done.

The facility, paid for with a $19.5 million bond, was not expected to be full until 2006, the same year it would be paid off.But the jail is already full, and County Commissioners admit they may have to ask voters to approve another bond of between $10 million and $18 million to expand the jail.

Commissioner Gayle Stevenson said the county's projections failed to take into account the dramatic increase in drug crimes in the area.

Since the jail opened, the 2nd District Court handled 477 felony cases. In the last fiscal year, ending in June, the court handled some 1,470 felony cases, most drug-related.

County narcotics agents have blamed the increased popularity of methamphetamine for the dramatic rise in crime.

Judge Jon M. Memmott said judges in Davis may have no other choice but to turn felony criminals out on the streets within two years, just as jails in Salt Lake and Weber counties are required to do under a federal mandate when the jails get too crowded.

Judge Michael Allphin said if the jail hadn't been built when it was, there could have been real problems.

This summer, jail officials announced the construction of a 120-bed minimum-security work center paid for from a $2.4 million federal grant to house misdemeanor inmates.

In exchange, the county had to sign a 10-year contract, agreeing to house 120 federal inmates in the main jail at the rate of $50 a day.

Jail officials say the work center should offer some relief, but Memmott said it won't help with the ever-growing number of violent and repeat offenders that must be locked up.

County officials and judges agree that it will be hard to convince voters they need more money for a jail expansion.

Sheriff's Major K.D. Simpson said residents are quick to ask that criminals be locked up, but when it comes to funding, it's another story.

"Jails are our lowest priority. I mean, sewer plants have a higher priority than a jail," Simpson said.

The Sheriff's Department is proposing a budget of $48,000 in planning costs for next year to pay an architect to design the expansion.

Simpson said the plan is to build two more jail "pods" within a five-year period, adding 295 more beds for a total of 780, the maximum allowed by Farmington.

Stevenson said he understands the judges' concerns, but the commissioner said he and his colleagues have to sell the bond to voters.

"There's always the feeling that the people who are responsible should take the lead to do it. It's easy for someone else to say that it's their responsibility," Stevenson said.

Allphin said with or without a tax increase, residents will pay in other ways.

"People need to face the reality. Do they want these felon drug users, drug dealers back out on the street?" Allphin said.