David L. Thomas
State Senator, District 18 and
Co-chair of Executive Offices and Criminal Justice Appropriations
As widely reported in Utah’s newspapers, the State of Utah officially ran out of space to incarcerate State prisoners in December 2005. That not only includes the State correctional facilities, but also the 1,000 or more county jail beds the State uses under contract with counties.
The jail and prison populations for State inmates continue to climb at a rate of more than 250 new inmates per year. Adding to this crisis is the fact that many counties are no longer willing to contract with the State because the State does not pay the full housing rate. Instead, counties are expected to subsidize the State. If the State lost all county inmate facilities it would cost over $102 million in capital investment and another $23, million in ongoing operation expenses to meet the demand.
So what are our options?
We can spend $132 million of the surplus on permanent State facilities and forego contracting with county jails. We can also add on an additional $100 million in capital expenditures to build an additional correctional facility to keep up with the growth in inmate population.
Option # 2:
We can pay counties what it actually costs to house State inmates, which includes the depreciated capital costs of jail structures. This may amount to $5 million to $10 million per year. At the same time we can contract with county jails for additional space and implement a long range plan to build another large State correctional facility, which may eventually cost $100 million, but would buy us some time.
Our appropriations committee picked option #2. I have opened up a bill file
on Jail Funding Amendments, SB 50, to accomplish the wishes of the committee. It’s simply a case of pay me now or pay me later. Because later is going to be expensive, I think we should solve this now. I welcome your comments.