I have seen the Salt Lake County Jail a number of times. Not realizing it was a jail, I thought it was just a big warehouse. The county jail is a two story cement building with no windows. Walking up to the building for the first time was when I realized this building is the prison. It is a maximum security jail. This is accomplished by the design of the building. There are no fences or guard towers around it.
Entering the heart of the jail felt like walking into a real life sci-fi dystopia. Moving from one section of the prison to another section required passing through two doors. You would enter the first door into a small area. Once in that small transition area you would have to wait till the first door closed before the second door would open. All the doors are opened remotely by a prison guard in a different area of the prison. There is a name for this kind of system but I do not remember.
All the surfaces in the building were either cement or stainless steel. It felt very harsh and sterile. The smell was a mix of industrial cleaners, body order, and dirt. The colors felt drab and slightly grey.
For the most part the staff, including the jail guards were helpful and friendly. I realize that it would be a different relationship if I was a prisoner there. One of the guards made a comment about how the design of the building made it difficult for rehabilitation programs. This building was designed to extract a pound of flesh for the crime committed. For most of the people in the prison maximum security was overkill.
Another comment that was made, that really stuck with me was about how people do not want half-way houses in their neighborhood. But the truth is that the prisoners when released from jail end up in their neighborhoods in the houses and apartments anyways, just hidden from view. Wouldn’t it be better if they were in a half-way house where they were drug tested daily and required to either work or go to school.
At the very end of the tour I overheard a discussion about the difference between a prison and a jail. For a lay person like me I do not see any difference it is basically a technical one. If it is run by a city or county it is a jail. If it is run by a state or the Federal Government it is a prison.
I walked away better understanding this common mentality that seems to be preventive in American society. If something is Out of Site – it is Out of Mind. If the county jail had a fence around it I would have viewed the building differently upon first seeing it. Guard towers would add to my awareness. I am just beginning to become aware of the actual cost to society in terms of monetary and social cost that are associated with prisons and jails. I might choose different methods of restitution and rehabilitation rather than this idea that every crime must be paid for with a pound of flesh.