Weber County to probe possible expansion of jail’s medical, mental health facilities
OGDEN — Weber County officials have hired a contractor to look into expanding the county jail’s medical and mental health facilities.
The ultimate upshot could be a proposal to expand the facility, similar to the $8.7 million expansion of the Davis County Jail that started last February to augment medical offerings there. But things in Weber County haven’t reached that stage yet — Tuesday’s action by county commissioners only calls for an architect to evaluate needs and come up with upgrade proposals.
“This just takes us to that next stage, (so) that we can evaluate if and when a new medical wing would be necessary or could even be considered, costwise,” said Commissioner Gage Froerer. “To plan for it today, in my opinion, is wise. We’re not committing to it. We’re just saying let’s look at some options, let’s plan ahead, let’s prepare for the future.”
That said, he suspects some sort of jail expansion will be needed “sooner or later.” The Weber County Correctional Facility, part of the Weber County Sheriff’s Office facility at 721 W. 12th St., opened in 2000 and has a capacity of 800-plus inmates.
Similarly, Commissioner Scott Jenkins, who grudgingly voted yes on hiring GSBS Architects of Salt Lake City to handle the work, said getting the upgrade plans could be the “precursor” to a formal upgrade proposal. The price of evaluating inmate medical and mental health needs and coming up with plans to upgrade the Weber County Correctional Facility will cost $22,750, according to the contract with GSBS. GSBS is also tasked with coming up with plans to augment remote court access at the jail.
More and more, jail operators are having to deal with drug addiction and mental illness among inmates, on top of more routine medical needs. That’s increased the pressure on jail operators from groups like the American Civil Liberties Union to upgrade their offerings.
Capt. Phillip Reese of the sheriff’s office, who addressed commissioners on the matter, noted pressure brought to bear by the ACLU in the mid-1990s to get Weber County to upgrade its jail. For now, he said, the county isn’t facing that sort of pressure, isn’t acting under the threat of a possible legal order.
“I’m proud to be part of a team who is being proactive in our community and reaching out to meet the needs of those that we incarcerate in our facility to create much-needed medical and mental health services prior to any threat of legal action,” Reese told commissioners. “It’s simply the right thing to do and the proper thing to do.”
Per the agreement with GSBS, the firm will come up with four proposals to augment medical and mental health services, with two of the concepts tapping only existing space at the jail facility. The company is to come up with cost estimates and a recommendation for the county.
In Davis County, plans call for construction of a two-story, 22,000-square-foot wing to serve as a medical observation unit. It’s to be finished by year’s end and will contain 21 individual cells, two group cells, two padded cells, a nursing station, two telehealth rooms and more.
Froerer said the issues precipitating the look into expanding medical and mental health services in Weber County aren’t new. “I would say that if anything, we have seen a substantial increase in the mental health issues of this county over the past several years,” he said.
He noted another move a year or so ago to improve the level of medical care jail inmates get by contracting with a third-party provider. The shift has been a good one, he said, improving care and reducing the potential of a lawsuit against the county over the services inmates receive.