Salt Lake County Jails Much Roomier Thanks To Diversion Programs

Salt Lake City leaders got an update on jail overcrowding yesterday. Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder says for the first time in years the jail is not being faced with a population crisis. Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder will be the first to admit that Utah has seen its fair share of jail overcrowding.

“I used to see routinely editorial cartoons of police taking prisoners in the police car and walking out the other side. it was true.”

 True until recently. Tuesday, Winder met with the Salt Lake City Council telling them for the first time since he took office in 2007, the Salt Lake County jail is not overcrowded. 

“We have essentially eliminated our overcrowding problems through the opening of Oxbow and our other diversion programs.”

Winder admits having over 150 more beds to house prisoners through the partial opening of the Oxbow jail in 2009 helped the situation ... but he credits more of the success to a new approach. 

“Quit locking up everybody that doesn’t need to go to jail. Why have we been taking the no insurance guy to jail for 90-120 days? Does it cause him to go and get insurance? It doesn’t. It is costing us money and it doesn’t achieve the goals that we want. So now people are saying what are other mechanisms that ensure that individual complies but doesn’t burden us at 84 dollars a day in a facility.”

 Winder asked city leaders for their support of programs that rehabilitate certain inmates from reoffending rather than housing them until their next arrest. Salt Lake City Councilman Kyle LaMalfa agreed saying such programs are more economically and socially responsible. 

“We’re a growing city and a growing county. just a population grows there is a need for an increased capacity in our jails and our holding facilities and our capacity for rehabilitating criminals and bringingthem away from that life..we need to grow that capacity.”

 Winder says he plans to visit all of the city councils in Salt Lake County to thank them for their help with the overcrowding problem. He is also beginning talks with state lawmakers to show them the cost savings and other benefits that can sometimes come from rehabilitation instead of incarceration.