Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder lifted unpopular booking restrictions at the county jail last month. Since then, bookings have spiked and the jail has repeatedly gone into lockdown.
Sheriff Winder ordered the jail to stop taking some low-level offenders back in early 2016. He said they would likely be released anyway due to overcrowding. And he wanted to draw attention to the problem.
Last month Winder lifted those restrictions after he received funding for more jail beds.
“The bottom line is the jail has gone from bad to worse, overnight,” Winder says. The minute we turned off those booking restrictions.”
The Salt Lake County jail booked about 600 more people this June than it did the previous year. And involuntary commitments are up 12 percent. That’s where a person experiencing a mental health crisis is taken to jail and then escorted to a hospital. These situations caused the jail to go into lockdown 10 times last month.
Winder’s jail restrictions were unpopular with Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown. Brown said it kept his officers from dealing with criminals, especially in the Rio Grande neighborhood. Salt Lake City Police say reversing the policy has improved morale in the department.
Matthew Rojas is a spokesman for Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski. He says the stepped up enforcement has allowed officers to make more arrests.
“Not only are we able to disrupt the criminal behavior in a lot of situations, but in some situations we’re able to get people into the system,” Rojas says. “Get them court dates. Get them in front of a judge so they can clear up some of the things that are serving as a hurdle for them to get services.”
Rojas calls the problems at the jail “growing pains” that are natural with any new policy.
Winder says the community needs to think more seriously about adequately funding substance abuse and mental health treatment.