Sheriff: no more contract inmates
While counties across the state are encouraging lawmakers to allow more prison inmates to be placed in county jails to take pressure off the state prison, Summit County Sheriff Dave Edmunds said he is not interested in taking in more inmates from the state.
"Summit County has never been one to do a large amount of contracting, and there are a lot of reasons why," Edmunds said. "As a sheriff, I’ve always been very reticent to expand contracting because, number one, I don’t think that’s what the constituents want. We don’t like big jails in Summit County. We’re a resort-based economy that likes to carve our niche a different way."
Because the jail needs its space for county inmates, taking in more prison inmates would require an expansion of the county jail.
"I would have to bond to expand the jail facilities," he said. "If I’m going on the word of the state that they are going to fill those beds with contract inmates, that’s a precarious situation to be in, because the state doesn’t always honor that. They don’t always give the county the number of inmates they said they will give them. And I never want to put the tax payers in a precarious situation like that."
The Summit County Jail has 100 beds for inmates, though it can accommodate 105 beds in a pinch.
"We never like to go more than 85 to 90 percent occupancy because we always have to have beds for county inmates that are being booked by Park City, Summit County and all the other law enforcement agencies that book inmates in our jail," Edmunds said.
Currently, the jail contracts with the state to take in an average of 20 to 25 prison inmates. In exchange, the state pays the Sheriff’s Office $46 a day per inmate.
"It does not cover the entire cost of the jail, but it does offset it," Edmunds said. "It’s a good place to be if you’re a county jail that wants to expand contracting for economic development. If that’s something you want to do, then that’s a good thing. But we’re not one of those counties. We’re not looking for that kind of economic development."
For now, the exchange works well for the county, because the Sheriff’s Office has to keep the same number of deputies in the jail whether there are prison inmates or not.
"I still have to have the jail open and functioning, so that $46 is good, because it offsets some of our costs," he said. "But the state can take those inmates any time they want and redistribute them. Sometimes they are here today and gone tomorrow. You can’t really do a lot of long-term planning on that."
The Sheriff’s Office isn’t relying on the income, he said.
"It’s not a budget buster for us," he said. "If the contract inmates go away, it’s not going to kill our budget because we don’t rely on that money. It offsets it. It’s great to have when we have it. But I’m not one of those proponents of expanding the Summit County Jail to engage in contracting. It’s just too precarious."
Over the next few years, Edmunds expects to take fewer and fewer prison inmates, until the county jail becomes a county inmate-only jail.
"We’re moving in that direction," he said. "It’s going to take some years to do that, but our population is growing and we have a very aggressive law enforcement agency. Park City has turned it up a notch or two over the last few years as well. So we’re getting to the point where we’re going to be purely county inmates."
In the end, it boils down to two choices, Edmunds said.
"We can either expand the jail and try to pay for it through additional contracting, or we could keep the jail the size it is and let normal organic growth inhabit those beds," he said.
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