By Blakely Gull —Capital West News
A legislative committee tasked with finding a new location for the Utah State Prison has now expanded the list of potential sites from three to five.
The final list of possible prison sites being considered by the Prison Relocation Commission includes:
• An expanded site near I-80 and 7200 West
in Salt Lake County
• An industrial park near I-80 in Tooele County
• A site near Fairfield in Utah County
• A site near Eagle Mountain in Utah County
• A site near Grantsville in Tooele County
“We had resounding support to move the prison a year ago,” said Rep. Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, who is confident that the support still exists.
In a Feb. 26 meeting the commission approved a report to legislative leaders and the governor proposing that the commission be given final authority over site selection, rather than going before the entire legislature.
The prison move is being used as leverage in the political battle between Governor Gary Herbert and House Speaker, Greg Hughes, R-Draper. Hughes’ has refused to hear the governor’s Healthy Utah bill- his alternative to Medicaid expansion-while Herbert has threatened to veto any legislation limiting his authority and to reconsider a prison relocation, despite his past support for the move.
“The governor is making decisions for the governor’s office and we are making decisions for the legislature and the Prison Relocation Committee,” said Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton. “We will let this play out and see where it goes.”
Hughes, a long-time supporter of the move, works in real estate development, and could benefit from the move. Hughes led the creation of the Prison Relocation Commission back in 2011, which would move the prison out of his Draper district.
“People ask if I regret running the bill that started the public process and I don’t regret it,” Hughes said. “There are some important considerations policy makers need to make when relocating a prison. We are now in year four of the open-hearing process to move the prison and that’s a good thing.”
Lawmakers have yet to seek public input on any of the potential site locations, and during the meeting on Friday public comment was not allowed due to time shortage.
Although they haven’t yet sought community input, now that there is a final list legislators are hoping to have more public engagement.
“Reconstructing the prison will help rehabilitate offenders, reduce recidivism, and save taxpayers in the state of Utah money,” said Wilson. “It will increase community safety, transform offenders, and generate 30,000 jobs for Utahns.”
In order to change the current trend of two out of three of prison admission being parole and probation offenders, the commission plans on including rehabilitation facilities in the new prison’s design.
The commission advocates that remaining in Draper would cost the state $230 million in upgrades and “even more if they do not reinvent justice reform rather than the $500 million projected in relocating the prison.
“We have shown that without adequate facilities, the Department of Corrections is not going to be able to fully execute its objective to help offenders rejoin society as productive contributors,” said Wilson. “The new facilities are going to make a significant difference in our ability to help these inmates re-enter society.”