The Oxbow Jail could reopen by early next year.

On Tuesday, the Salt Lake County Council approved $640,000 in funding to prepare the jail for its opening. Sheriff Jim Winder must still get the final OK from the council in November, but "my understanding is we have a commitment to begin to open the facility."

"This to me signals that Oxbow Jail will finally, after nearly a decade of being mothballed, be opened and begin servicing the citizens that have demanded that this facility be opened," Winder said.

Opening just one unit — 184 beds — at the facility carries a big price tag at $4.8 million.

And despite the funding approved Tuesday, council members cautioned that opening the jail is not a done deal.

"It's going to be difficult to find the money to open it," Councilman Joe Hatch said. "That's a huge increase. Where are we going to get that kind of money?"

Councilman Jeff Allen said they will have to start cutting somewhere, since opening up the jail is his top priority.

"We'll have to cut something else," Allen said. "It's an issue of priorities. We're going to have to re-prioritize some things.

"This is our number one priority: protecting our citizens."

Opening up more jail beds emerged as a top priority once again after 14 prisoners were forced to be given early release in July because of overcrowding.

But Councilman Joe Hatch said the Oxbow Jail move is not a "knee-jerk reaction" to the early release.

"It has become very, very clear ... that we are missing a piece of the puzzle in terms of the facilities we need," Hatch said.

County Council members have been reluctant to add jail bed space in the past and instead pushed alternatives to incarceration programs. Hatch said Oxbow is the missing piece in the county's incarceration system that can be used to further the county's push for alternatives.

Inmates at Oxbow will be enrolled in vocational education programs, life skills classes and the Corrections Addictions Treatments Systems program, an in-house drug treatment program, among other treatment options.

Winder has pushed to open Oxbow since he was elected in 2006, and it was also a seemingly annual request from his predecessor, Aaron Kennard. A request in November of 2007 for $600,000 to prepare the jail was denied.

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