Salt Lake County leaders are seriously considering selling the long-shuttered Oxbow Jail to the state.

House Speaker Greg Curtis, R-Sandy, wooed county leaders on Wednesday with the promise to remove all state inmates from the county's overcrowded adult detention center if the county agrees to sell.

The pitch seemed to work.

"That would relieve a huge burden that we have on the jail right now," Councilman Michael Jensen said. "The only way we would entertain the sale of Oxbow to the state would be with that caveat."

For years the county has been grappling with overcrowding issues at the adult detention center. But building more beds is expensive — $50 million for a new pod.

Just two months ago, Sheriff Jim Winder tried — and failed — to convince county leaders to open up the facility. Then the County Council refused to cough up $610,000 to get Oxbow ready to open up once again.

Councilman Joe Hatch wanted to modernize the facility so it could be used as a "safety valve" when the adult detention center was bursting at its seams.

"Freeing up 250 to 300 beds at our jail does exactly that," Hatch said of Curtis' plan to remove Adult Probation and Parole prisoners from the county jail.

Calls to Curtis were not returned Wednesday night, although he reportedly wants to use the facility to house undocumented immigrants who commit crimes.

The county closed the 560-bed Oxbow in 2002, shortly after the adult detention center opened.

Since then, the state has tried to buy the facility at least two other times, with the most recent attempt in 2004. At that time, lawmakers offered less than half of what the 500-bed facility was worth ($15 million).

This year, Curtis is offering a fair-market value, several county sources with intimate knowledge of the deal said.

Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon said the idea was "intriguing," especially since the sale could ease overcrowding problems.

"I want to see the numbers on paper and see whether it is a financial benefit for the citizens of Salt Lake County," Corroon said.

The county jail houses anywhere from 250 to 300 state inmates a day, but the state only pays a portion of the cost to keep them there. The county ends up subsidizing state inmates by about $4 million a year, Salt Lake County Chief Deputy Sheriff Rollin Cook said.

That rankles politicians, but there is nothing they can do. State law mandates the county jails take in court-ordered Adult Probation and Parole inmates.

If the state buys Oxbow, the law would have to be changed to ban judges from sentencing state inmates to the county jail.

Cook insists lawmakers are ignoring the ramifications of removing all state inmates and shuffling them someplace else.

"They've gotta be placed somewhere," Cook said. "All the other county jails are suffering from the same problems we are."

However, several jails across the state rent out bed space to the state for a fee — one much higher than the current Adult Probation and Parole reimbursement rate of $29 a day.


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