The Salt Lake County Council is reconsidering its tough stance on no more jail beds.

The council has kept a tight grip on the jail for a few years now, refusing to add beds unless absolutely necessary and instead pushing for alternatives to incarceration.

Now the council is being forced to make some tough decisions: stay the course, change it a bit or go another way altogether.

On Tuesday, the Salt Lake County Council passed a resolution to start work on a criminal and social justice master plan that will help county officials figure out which way is the best to go.

But some county officials aren't ready to turn back just yet on alternatives to incarceration — options that take low-risk inmates out of the county jail and into treatment programs.

"The question is do we alter our philosophy or alter the status quo," Hatch said. "If we're going to backtrack, I want data before I backtrack."

The problem with alternatives to incarceration is criminals know they can get around them, Salt Lake County District Attorney Lohra Miller said. The Day Reporting Center, where county jail inmates can swap jail time for outpatient treatment, is not under the sheriff's custody, so if inmates don't comply, they face few to no consequences, Miller said.

Without consequences, judges are reluctant to send people to the DRC, Councilman Jeff Allen said.

"There just isn't enough accountability to it," Allen said. "We want to make alternatives to incarceration more effective."

Sheriff Jim Winder wants the county to reopen the Oxbow Jail and use it for treatment programs in connection with the county's alternatives to incarceration programs.

In his budget proposal, Mayor Peter Corroon didn't recommend opening the shuttered jail but did ask for $610,000 to "modernize" the jail. The money would be used to bring the jail back to tip-top shape in case the county needs to open the jail in the near future.

Winder lobbied the County Council hard Tuesday to ignore Corroon's recommendations and open the jail now.

But several members of the council said it's too soon to shake things up yet.

"To give up on the ghost on that level without the data and without the master plan may be shifting directions and doing it in a very expensive direction that we'll say in the future, 'Oh wow, why did we go that way?"' Hatch said.


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