Salt Lake County officials offered up on Monday funding to open additional county jail beds to help address crime in the Rio Grande neighborhood.
The Utah Legislature this year set aside $2.8 million to help Salt Lake County free up some jail beds. But because that money isn’t available until July 1st, Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams says he’s asking the county to put up $700,000 to immediately start moving some inmates to counties that do have jail space.
“The problems that exist today cannot be solved alone with more jail space,” McAdams says. “We need to couple jail beds with treatment for those who are struggling with mental health problems and with substance abuse problems. However, the space in the jail is an important and necessary piece of this very complicated puzzle.”
Due to a population squeeze at the jail, Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder has had a policy of refraining from booking inmates on suspicion of some misdemeanor offenses. He calls it a crisis.
“We have been in that situation for a number of years,” he says. “The way we have managed that has been some would say effective, some would say ineffective, but it has been what we have had to do.”
It’s unclear how many beds this funding will free up. It’s also important to note that not all of those beds will be reserved for arrests made downtown. Regardless, Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown says the announcement is a game changer for his department.
“If we get 10 beds, that’s 10 more than we had today,” Brown says. “We should treat those beds as a valuable resource, but also as a door into treatment or mental health programming.”
The Salt Lake County Council is scheduled to consider McAdam’s proposal on Tuesday.