*Originally published in City Journals
Salt Lake County’s largest budget expenditure is the jail and over 60 percent of the General Fund is used for criminal justice-related expenses. As an elected official in Salt Lake County, I believe keeping our public safe and our jail system operating effectively and efficiently is one of our most important duties.
In recent months we have seen a lot of conversation around the issue of capacity at the Salt Lake County Jail. Since the state-driven Justice Reinvestment Initiative, the County jail has been shouldering an additional burden in the form of additional inmates from the state prison. This effort is part of the broader plan to connect drug offenders with treatment and needed resources, rather than simply prison time. Little funding from the state has been available to put into this new approach until this year. Thanks to our state legislators, counties around the state will start to see some of the financial resources needed to implement this, and we hope it will be fully funded in the years to come.
When local police officers are not able to book offenders into the jail due to capacity limits, it makes their jobs incredibly difficult. Our Salt Lake County Adult Detention Center is at capacity. It would cost millions of dollars to make improvements to Oxbow Jail to open additional pods (and several million dollars more annually in ongoing operational costs). We are solidifying numbers now so we can develop a long-term solution.
I, along with my colleagues on the Salt Lake County Council, voted to allocate $700,000 to relocate some jail occupants to other county jails that do have capacity. This will help give us additional space to incarcerate those who need it, and by extension hopefully allow the jail to lift some of the booking constraints. I am grateful to the state legislature, which is partnering with us in this effort and is providing funding for this as well.
Sheriff Jim Winder has been an incredible leader on this issue, working tirelessly to find effective, pragmatic solutions. I’m grateful for his leadership.
While jail beds are important, they are one piece of the overall puzzle. More and more we are seeing that alternatives to incarceration for those with chronic mental health or substance abuse challenges offer a better path. Rather than simple incarceration in a jail or prison, people struggling with mental health or substance abuse challenges can more successfully get back on their feet and break out of a pattern of poor choices.
Our county Behavioral Health division has worked hard on exploring those alternatives as well, and I look forward to continued innovation and reform in our criminal justice system.
As this jail bed plan goes into effect, local law enforcement officers should see additional capacity at our jail, so they can adequately book individuals when needed. I know our officers on the streets bear the brunt of these challenges, and put in countless long hours giving their most devoted effort to make our cities safer.
I’m optimistic that we will continue to make progress in the months ahead, and look forward to the continued partnership between Salt Lake County, neighboring counties, and the state.
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Aimee Winder Newton
Aimee Winder Newton has served since 2014 and represents Taylorsville, Murray, West Jordan, and West Valley City on the Salt Lake County Council. She was a former 2020 Republican candidate for Utah Governor and was the first woman elected as chair of the Council. Aimee works tirelessly to defend the quality of life in Salt Lake County while protecting tax dollars... [read more]
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aimee winder newton: County Council district 3