To Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County, the rest of of Utah is a dumping ground — the place it sends people who’ve become inconvenient.
First, it was the homeless.
Today it’s jail prisoners.
This is no time for Salt Lake County to begin warehousing its inmates in other jails.
Gov. Gary Herbert signed the Justice Reinvestment Initiative in 2015 to help low-level offenders get substance abuse treatment, reduce recidivism and slow the growth of Utah’s prison population.
Because the initiative reduced sentences for some drug-related crimes, the Salt Lake County Jail started housing prisoners who once would’ve served their time in Gunnison or Draper.
But since the county couldn’t magically expand its jail, Sheriff Jim Winder developed a booking policy that emphasized locking up violent criminals.
That led to harsh complaints from Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown, who wants drug offenders in jail.
Winder’s solution: Start sending prisoners to other Utah jails. Now. Up to 150 of them, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.
The state already agreed to supply $2.8 million in matching funds for the prisoner dump, beginning in July. Winder asked the County Council for money to begin it weeks early.
County officials announced Monday they supported the $700,000 plan.
Congratulations. You just put additional lives at risk throughout Utah.
Look at the numbers.
In 2012, 11 prisoners died in Utah jails, according to the U.S. Justice Department. In 2013, it was 16. By 2014, the number reached 19 — a 72.7 percent increase in three years.
Six local Utah jails reported at least one death in 2014, the same number from 2013 and up from 4 in 2012. In the Davis County Jail alone, 15 prisoners died between 2005 and 2016.
Granted, Utah’s total deaths may appear low, especially compared to states like California (145), Florida (83) and Texas (74). But Utah is a state of 3 million people; its per-capita jail death rate is the highest in the nation.
And into that deadly atmosphere, Salt Lake County intends to send 150 prisoners — probably the sickest ones, in need of drug addiction treatment, mental health care and medical supervision.
Salt Lake City plans to close its 1,100-bed downtown homeless shelter, the Road Home, scattering residents among four new, smaller centers. When they open, they’ll leave 300 to 400 people without lodging.
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But only temporarily. Many of them will make their way to Ogden’s Lantern House, or one of the city’s smaller shelters.
Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski doesn’t care. Neither does Chief Brown, because the Road Home is a magnet for drug dealers and addicts — the people he wants in jail.
Even if it’s in another county, where too many of them are likely to die.