Salt Lake County Council approves preliminary plan on alternative to fight crime

Posted at 6:26 PM, Sep 22, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-22 20:26:45-04

SALT LAKE COUNTY, Utah -- The Salt Lake County Council met for hours Tuesday afternoon, going over a plan presented by the Salt Lake County mayor that would continue taxpayer funding for inmates long after the jail bond is paid off.

They voted 8-1 to give preliminary approval to the idea.

"It is a system that we cannot tolerate in this county anymore," Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder said, making a plea before the public right before the council meeting on Tuesday. "We simply bring human beings in, process them and kick them to the curb."

He's talking about the incarceration system in the county. The sheriff and other leaders said what they're doing isn't working.

"We have people that are simply cycling through over, and over and over again," Winder said.

He said inmates keep coming back to those county jail cells. Crime in the area has risen. The jail is overcrowded.

"We cannot jail our way out of our problems," said Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams.

Every year, taxpayers help contribute $9.4 million toward the 20-year bond that pays for the county jail.

The jail, and that bond, will be completely paid off in December.

Winder and McAdams want to keep that funding going, but use it in a new, but different way.

"In many cases the root cause is mental illness or drug addiction," McAdams said of how inmates end up in jail in the first place. "We want to help them beat their drug addiction, manage their mental illness and get back into society."

The county would do that by investing that $9.4 million into building a brand new community corrections center. Inmates would head there for treatment after jail.

The center would also fund three new “pay for success" initiatives: one, focusing on keeping inmates out of jail once released, two, on homelessness and the third to improve lives of at-risk children in hopes of preventing crime.

The money would also get divvied up into other efforts and resources to reduce the crime rate.

To alleviate overcrowding, some of the money would go into the jail itself.

McAdams said it would cost the average home $2 a year to fund.

Each plan supporter said it'll pave a new path for how Salt Lake County deals with crime for decades to come.

"We thought, ‘well here's an opportunity to do some of the things that we feel will really make a difference in our community,’" said Councilman Max Burdick.

Now that the council has given preliminary approval to re-direct those funds, a months-long process to make it final will ensue.

The next step for the county will be to send out notices to all taxpayers explaining how much they'd shell out for the plan, and details of how they can weigh in at a Dec. 8 public meeting.