It’s Time to Relocate the State Prison

Over 70 years ago, as the state was looking to relocate the prison in Sugarhouse beyond the urban sprawl of the time, they settled on a 700-acre site in Draper. 

At the time it was a rural community far enough away to allow for future population growth, while still close enough to courts, prison personnel, volunteers and hospitals to effectively serve those housed there.

As the population of the Salt Lake Valley has continued to expand, the current prison location is now at the intersection of the state’s two most populous counties and four growing cities. The 700 acre property is flanked by major campuses of eBay to the north and Adobe to the south and has the potential to generate significant tax revenue if developed, as well as bring many high-paying jobs to our state.

The old, dilapidated structures at the prison must be repaired or rebuilt, at significant cost to taxpayers either way. The current prison design is expensive to maintain and to utilize, and is less effective than newer designs in accommodating the training which leads to lower rates of recidivism among prisoners.

Historically, prison moves occur about every 70 years. In 2011, I sponsored and passed legislation to further evaluate the relocation of the prison from Draper, as it seemed as though its time had come.

While state law allows for a relocation study to be performed without much public participation and no public meetings, I chose to pass legislation that facilitated all of the stakeholders, bringing them together in the most transparent way possible.

There are a few facts that need to be considered regardless of what steps the state chooses to take next:

  1. Choosing to do nothing is not an option. Maintenance, repair and expansion of the current prison is projected to cost taxpayers $783 million; relocation will cost approximately $1 billion, with a serious economic upside.

  2. New prison designs allow for prison programming that has been shown to reduce recidivism and return offenders to society more prepared to be productive, as well as reduce operating costs.

  3.  Much interest has been expressed regarding the development of a high-tech corridor between Adobe and eBay, which would provide many well-paying jobs for Utahns.

  4. When the prison is moved, new development will take place in a robust, high-growth area, adding to the tax base of a city that is already doing its share by housing the Utah National Guard and a water treatment plant for other areas of the valley, for which it receives no tax dollars.

  5. Annual state and local tax revenues associated with the full development of the current prison location are projected to be $94.6 million, while estimates of annual economic development to the state are $1.8 billion.

The Prison Relocation Commission has been looking for a site with natural barriers to encroachment that would prevent the reoccurrence of the situation in Draper. No attempt has been made by anyone associated with the commission to manipulate the screening scores in any way. Independent experts with many years of national experience in siting correctional facilities have calculated these criteria and narrowed the list of potential locations from 26 to six.

During the December 3rd PRC meeting discussion on these six remaining locations, I proposed new assessment guidelines to be used in our evaluations to ensure that the locations we were considering wouldn’t be economically harmed by housing the prison.  The commission unanimously agreed, and these new guidelines will be used to help further narrow the list:    

  1. Have any issues been discovered with the site to date that would make the site unreasonably difficult or costly to develop?

  2. Is there an identified, compelling state interest that would likely be impaired by locating the correctional facility on the site being assessed?

  3. Is the proposed site in the path of expected concentrations of population growth and increasing population density that will likely occur in the foreseeable future?

  4. What is contemplated in the land use plan of the local community where the proposed site is located?

We appreciate the participation and feedback from the public on this very important issue and believe that an open and transparent process is the way to most effectively achieve our goals.  We have confidence that the site ultimately selected will be the one that best meets the needs of the state, the prisoners and the surrounding communities.