Poll: Opposition to Prison Move Consistent Across Partisan Lines

The Utah Legislature and GOP Gov. Gary Herbert seem ready build a new main state prison away from the current prison in Draper.

But a new UtahPolicy public opinion poll shows that most Utahns don’t want to move the prison, but leave it where it is.

And leaders of a special prison relocation commission will soon start a public education program aimed at explaining why moving the prison makes sense in any number of ways, but especially financially.

Development of the current Draper prison site could be bringing in $85 million to $95 million tax dollars within a dozen years.

And the new prison’s cost of $450 million could be paid off rather quickly.

Herbert has asked that the 62-year-old prison be moved from its current location in the southern-most part of Salt Lake County – thus opening up a 700-acre parcel of land to be developed, most likely as a high-technology business/manufacturing center.

And the Legislature has set up a prison relocation commission, which has met for a year and whittled down potential sites to four.

Co-chair of the commission, Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, told UtahPolicy Wednesday morning that the commission will “open up” the site selection process to include other possibilities.

In fact, just the other day three different land owners called Stevenson and wanted their property to be considered – and he passed them along to the commission’s consultants to see if those lands meet some of the minimum criteria.

Meanwhile, residents in every area considered suitable for the new 4,000-bed facility have objected. No one has asked for the new prison in his neck of the woods.

And it appears that Herbert and lawmakers will place the prison in a place not wanted by neighbors.

The new Dan Jones & Associates survey of 609 registered voters statewide (margin of error plus/minus 3.97 percent) finds that 55 percent of citizens don’t want to move the prison – which will cost around $450 million.

Only 36 percent said “yes,” move the prison.

Jones also asked where the prison should go.

While there is no majority opinion on that issue, a plurality want the new prison built somewhere in Tooele County, and well off the populated Wasatch Front.

Forty percent of Utahns said build the new prison somewhere south of I-80 out in the Tooele Valley, even though residents of Grantsville (the favored site) say they don’t want the facility in their area.

The majority who say don’t move the prison cuts across political lines.

Jones finds that 52 percent of Republicans don’t want the prison moved; 67 percent of Democrats and 53 percent of political independents say don’t move it.



Forty-three percent of Republicans say if the prison is moved, they want it in Tooele County.

But only 33 percent of Democrats pick Tooele County; 37 percent of independents.

There are few Democrats in Utah County – one of the most Republican counties in the nation — and interestingly enough – although perhaps understandably – 29 percent of Democrats said build the new prison somewhere in northern Utah County – one of the options the prison relocation commission is looking at.

Republicans and independents don’t like the Utah County location, which was favored by only 19 percent of folks in those two demographics.

Some of the Point-of-The-Mountain prison pods were built recently, but the main prison was first opened in 1952 when that part of Salt Lake County was barren, surrounded by a few farms.

Now the prison lies in Draper City with residential and business developments all around it.

Stevenson said it would cost between $235 million to $270 million to tear down the old prison buildings and construct new ones on the Draper site.

But that cost doesn’t include building more beds for the growing number of inmates, nor the difficult-to-determine cost of NOT redeveloping the Draper land.

“Right now the Draper site is basically the middle lane of an eight-lane economic development super-highway for Utah,” said Stevenson.

“There are just so many good reasons why the prison should be moved.”

And over the next month or so his commission will begin making a concerted effort to educate all Utahns, but especially those living around the preferred new prison sites, why moving the prison is a good deal for all taxpayers – and a good deal for Utah corrections as a whole.

That effort will include some kind of public outreach, even advertising, but those decisions will come in a couple of weeks, he said.

Considering that, and the value of the 700 acres and what could be built there, has led the prison relocation commission – along with its professional consultants – to recommend that the old prison be moved to a new site.

The poll shows, however, that public opinion has not kept up with the commission’s work, or at least is stuck on the first critical question: Should the prison be moved at all?

Stevenson admits that the commission members didn’t see, or expect, the kind of negative publicity that’s come in recent weeks since the four possible sites were released.

“We’ve been taken back a bit,” Stevenson said.

In hindsight, that’s understandable, he added.

Just Tuesday, Salt Lake Mayor Ralph Becker called his second press conference on the prison to denounce as inappropriate the two sites in Salt Lake City, one north of the Salt Lake City International Airport, another out west by the Kennecott retention ponds.

Becker went even so far as to suggest that a major earthquake in the valley could cause a huge wave of water from the Great Salt Lake to wash over the new prison, killing prisoners and guards, or resulting in prisoner releases.

It’s that kind of talk that causing problems for the commission now, said Stevenson.

Still, by the middle of the 2015 Legislature – sometime in February – the commission should pick one or two sites as firm recommendations to legislators, Stevenson said.

Then it will become a political decision – if one backed by some good site selection work and financial numbers.

Stevenson encouraged Utahns who want to read some of the reports and findings of the commission so far to visit the commission website here. Click on “meeting materials.”

“Draper is definitely not the place for the prison,” said Stevenson. “If we can bring in $95 million a year in taxes, the state could pay for the new prison in three or four years.

“That is a financial deal anyone would take.”