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Tribune Editorial: Farming out inmates to other jails carries risks for Salt Lake County

First Published      Last Updated May 08 2017 08:19 pm

Last week the Salt Lake County Council gave Sheriff Jim Winder $705,000 to send inmates to other jails, mostly in rural counties. The plan is a "temporary fix" until July, when the state and county will each pay $2.8 million to send inmates to other jails, thereby opening up 300 more beds in Salt Lake County.

Salt Lake County's facilities started getting overcrowded two years ago. That's when the state's Justice Reform Initiative, which intended to keep people with drug and mental issues out of prison, shifted 7,000 inmates from state prison to county jails. To cope, Winder created priorities that jailed violent offenders and left drug offenders on the street.




Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams recently called for funding of the JRI or a return to pre-JRI criminal penalties to halt the "chaos on our streets," referring to the increasing number of homeless people adrift — and drug deals being done — in Salt Lake City's Rio Grand neighborhood.

The $2.8 million is this funding. The $705,000 bridges the gap between now and then.

As part of this short-term solution, Winder reached out to Daggett County to measure its interest in receiving inmates, but Daggett County has had some problems of its own.

In the ultimate illustration of bad timing, the Attorney General's Office released its investigation into improprieties at the Daggett County Jail, which culminated with criminal charges for "unbelievably inhumane conduct and a reprehensible miscarriage of justice." The jail was housing state inmates until February, when the Department of Corrections removed 80 prisoners.

The charges stem from a deputy allegedly using a stun gun on several inmates, sometimes offering them soda if they agreed to be targeted. The same deputy also allegedly attempted to train K-9 dogs by using inmates for practice. Corrections also removed inmates from Daggett County in 2007 due to security and management issues.

Daggett is not the only county with recent jail problems. Madison Jensen died in December in the Duchesne County Jail after four days in custody. Officers had other inmates clean vomit off of walls and mattresses after Jensen's death.

Another inmate, Heather Ashton Miller, died in the Davis County Jail with a severely damaged spleen after she fell from a top bunk only two days after she arrived. In that case, inmates were again directed to clean up the cell before any investigation took place. Jail staff took a week to call Miller's mother.

If the state corrections office has a difficult time maintaining oversight, how will Winder responsibly do so? Especially where he knows of existing problems?

If he does send inmates to rural counties, he will be morally, and legally, responsible for their safety.

And maybe he shouldn't start with Daggett County.

 

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