*Originally published in City Journals
One of the top priorities for the County Council this year is to fully open the Oxbow Jail. 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. And since Salt Lake County’s largest budget expenditure is the jail and over 70 percent of the General Fund is used for criminal justice-related expenses, it’s an issue that’s often top of mind for me.
The County’s 2018 budget that was approved in December provided funding to fully open the Oxbow Jail. We hoped that this, combined with optimizing the jail bed space at the Adult Detention Center would have a significant impact on criminal justice challenges in the county. Having sufficient jail bed space so our law enforcement officers can arrest offenders and have a place to take them is vital. Resources for more beds gives officers this tool as they do their jobs to keep our streets free from potentially dangerous individuals.
The main challenge to fully opening Oxbow is a staffing shortage. While there is enough funding for new operations, the jail is struggling to hire enough corrections officers to sufficiently staff the new pods that would be open.
When the Sheriff presented to our council recently, we learned that there were 78 vacant positions at the jail. Even with new hires expected soon, the rate of turnover and retirement makes having sufficient staff a challenge.
Simply put, corrections officers leave for higher paying jobs elsewhere, or for better benefits. We’ve also been told that many hope to transition into a patrol officer job with one of many law enforcement departments in the valley that are vying for personnel as well.
I’ve been worried that our county faces a looming law enforcement crisis. Many departments face shortages and are competing with each other for officers by offering higher wages or other perks to attract people.
One idea that was presented as part of our mid-year budget process, is to offer a $2,000 incentive to retain corrections officers at the jail if they do not leave for employment elsewhere over the next six months. July is a prime time that cities amend their budgets to offer higher wages, and is a natural time for corrections officers to leave for those other positions. Hopefully this cash retention bonus would help encourage them to stay with our jail.
There will be ongoing conversations about how to help ensure our county jail is adequately staffed so we have the needed capacity to take dangerous people off the streets. I’m incredibly grateful to the Sheriff and her staff for working on this issue, and I’m confident we’ll find solutions moving forward.
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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