County spotlight: Jail contracting — Counties are the answer

Utah can become the correctional model for the country – not for its harshness, but for its differences.

By 2050, the state’s population is estimated to be 5 million. Increases in population lead to increased crime and anticipating that growth is paramount in order to not overwhelm the corrections system.

This increase of about two million in 30 years will require more infrastructure and capital projects, including new jails, and possibly another new prison. Tapping into more rural communities for jail infrastructure reduces capital costs for the state.

County jails provide a decentralized model of corrections that prevents overpopulation, reduces large gang formation, and unnecessary injury or death of correctional officers. They are an immense resource for the state, and continuing a jail contracting partnership is necessitated by our growing population.

When an individual is arrested and held by the county before they are brought up on charges by the county attorney or city attorney, those expenses until that point are paid by the county. If that individual is convicted of a third-degree felony, such as burglary, they may receive a sentence of 0-5 years in the Utah State Prison.

If a judge in this case sentences someone to six months under the condition of probation, the county receives payment for that inmate based on a rate under condition of probation. If an inmate is sent to the Utah State Prison, the prison then determines if an inmate can be sent out to a county jail based on criminal history, gang affiliation, etc.

Most inmates in the State Prison require different management, medical care, or have committed a capital crime. Counties receive a particular rate for inmates sent to them based on a contract for housing that particular inmate.

Beaver County, Garfield County, and Kane County primarily house state inmates and not county inmates. This primarily happens due to particular programming offered to inmates for drugs, alcohol, sex crime rehabilitation, etc. Some receive work training, and others attend classes through which they obtain their GED.

This all occurs so inmates can be functional people and are ready to go back out into society and potentially reduce their stay within the correctional system. The costs to house these inmates in a county facility are significantly lower than what they are at the State Prison, saving taxpayer money.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, jails have worked to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 to distance inmates wherever possible, isolate inmates who contract COVID-19, and provide PPE for deputies and correctional officers in the jails. Sheriffs, with their local health departments, have been able to maintain statewide public health guidelines. In a few cases, jails have been able to test every inmate for COVID-19 and isolate and care for those positive with the virus.

County Jails are committed to protecting the community, providing necessary correctional services, and continuing the contracting partnership with the state. Adequate funding is the key to maintaining the relationship between State Corrections and the Counties.