The Tooele County Detention Center could have a new population of inmates from Salt Lake County as soon as next month.
Tooele County Sheriff Paul Wimmer said Salt Lake County is looking to move as many as 300 inmates out of its overcrowded jail and 50 could be on the way to Tooele County’s facility. If approved, the contract to Tooele County would be for two years and begin June 1.
The inmates from Salt Lake County would already have been convicted of a crime to avoid transportation for court hearings, Wimmer said. After serving their time, the inmates would be transported back to Salt Lake County when released.
Salt Lake County will pay $52 per day for inmates housed at the county jail, which is the same as state inmates but less than the $60 per day for federal inmates, Wimmer said. Unlike federal inmates, however, Salt Lake County will pay to cover the medical needs and transportation costs for its inmates.
Tooele County will also have access to Salt Lake County’s medical personnel and take back an inmate with medical needs beyond the capabilities of the Tooele County Detention Center, Wimmer said.
“It’s, relatively speaking, low risk,” he said. “As soon as an inmate from Salt Lake County would present too many challenges for us, that would be an inmate they are going to come out and take back under their own rooftop.”
Wimmer said Salt Lake County reviewed population numbers in jails around the state last fall and at the time, Tooele County believed it may be able to take as many as 100 inmates. The county jail has seen a significant rise in county and federal inmates, however, which limited the number to 50.
“We never want to contract out beds to the point to where we’re turning away our own predators,” Wimmer said.
The county jail maintains a buffer of about 20 to 30 beds at the 277-bed facility, Wimmer said. Weekly fluctuations with short-term inmates can cause population spikes, which are resolved by an initial court appearance or posting bail.
“We can swing 15 beds over a weekend just from our local arrests,” Wimmer said.
As of Wednesday, the county jail had 187 inmates, including 56 federal inmates, according to Tooele County Sheriff Lt. Ray Clinton.
“I think we got as high as 70 federal inmates at one point, which is quite a bit,” Clinton said.
The population of Tooele County inmates has also risen, which may be connected to the state’s Justice Reinvestment Initiative, according to Wimmer.
“Now that they don’t go to prison because they’re all misdemeanants, we are starting to see our own local population rise,” Wimmer said.
Under JRI, which took effect in October 2015, drug offenders posing a threat to communities are incarcerated and those with addiction problems that pose no danger would receive treatment. A number of drug charges were also amended from felonies to misdemeanors.
“I think there’s no question you can’t incarcerate addiction out of society and it’s a costly treatment for addiction,” Wimmer said.
While Wimmer said JRI was passed with good intentions, there hasn’t been sufficient funding so far to provide treatment to low-level offenders with addiction problems. Clinton said Valley Behavioral Health is working to receive state funds to provide drug addiction treatment.
In addition to treatment, however, Wimmer believes there needs to be a component of possible jail time for offenders who don’t comply with treatment and other options to reform.
“The criminal justice system has to be involved in serving as that hammer over their head to encourage the other road,” he said.
In response to the increased number of inmates and the continued processing of federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees, the sheriff’s office has hired four civilian employees, according to Clinton.
“Once they’re fully trained, they’ll be able to operate the control room, freeing up the deputies that are currently in there so they can be on the floor with inmates,” he said.
The Tooele County Detention Center was built to house 277 inmates in 2011 at a cost of $25 million.