Officials at the Oxbow Jail unlocked the doors, set the security alarms to silent and allowed members of the public to get a behind-the-scenes peek on Saturday.

Of course, no prisoners were present in the 560-bed jail, which has remained empty since 2000. But the need for additional room for prisoners has prompted the Salt Lake County Council to begin making Oxbow a functional space again.

On Aug. 12, the council approved $640,000 in funding to prepare the jail for its opening. County Sheriff Jim Winder must still get final approval from the council in November.

The aim of holding an open house at the jail on Saturday was to introduce the public to the facilities, said Levi Hughes, public information officer for the sheriff's office. "We wanted to let people see what their tax dollars are being used to pay for."

Since it closed, Oxbow has been used largely as a laundry facility for the Salt Lake County Jail. The Salt Lake County Jail doesn't have washers or dryers of its own. Oxbow has also been used as a space to train new officers, Hughes said.

In July, 14 prisoners convicted of class A misdemeanors were released early because of overcrowding in the Salt Lake County Jail. Typically, only individuals convicted of class B or C misdemeanors are eligible for early release.

Hughes said that empty, Oxbow is a disappointment to law enforcement because it could provide them the opportunity to rehabilitate inmates before they are released into the public. By not rehabilitating them, he said, it's like prisoners are walking through a revolving door.

Holladay resident Heather Marks said she attended the event after her father, a sheriff, mentioned there would be an open house.

"They should have put the prisoners down here instead of releasing them early," Marks said, referring to the prisoners who were released in July. "They weren't finished serving their sentences."


E-mail: cnorlen@desnews.com