Last Thursday, House Republicans voted to support the move of the Utah State Prison out of its current location in Draper, Utah. It should come as no surprise that Representative Brad Wilson (Republican – Kaysville) had little problem advancing HCR 8 – Concurrent Resolution Regarding Moving the State Prison out of the House Economic Development Committee Monday.
[pullquote]”We see this as a positive economic gain… We view this site for its full economic potential. It is an economic engine.” – Troy Walker, Draper City Mayor[/pullquote]This resolution, Wilson reasons, changes the state’s policy from, “…’Should we move the prison,’ to ‘how and when we should move the prison?’,” but notes that the actual time frame of moving the state prison will take a number of years. “We have studied the issue long enough and now is the time to act.” Wilson added, “We should focus our efforts to discussing how we can reduce the number of people that we have in prison, reducing recidivism, the cost of people in the system, and ensure that the growth isn’t as large as it was in the past.”
“We see this as a positive economic gain… We view this site for its full economic potential. It is an economic engine,” said newly elected Draper City Mayor, Troy Walker, noting that an independent study estimates that the converted location could result in an additional $1.8 billion in economic activity at the southern end of the Salt Lake Valley.
That same independent study found that a new facility is estimated to cost the state $237 million in construction costs with an additional $20 million for the land. The current facility, however, would require $240 million alone to replace current structures over the next 20 years. If (or if Wilson has his way, when) the prison moves, the state will have to spend an additional $90 million to clear the plot of land located at 14400 South and I-15, but expects to recoup these losses due to the estimated $130 million or more revenue once the prison clears out.
The resolution itself sets aside no money and does not designated the location of a new facility.
Wilson reminded the committee that the original state prison was located in the Sugar House neighborhood of Salt Lake City, at what is now Sugar House Park. “Things are different in Salt Lake County because of the decision to move the prison [out of Sugar House].” Wilson then challenged the committee to imagine that neighborhood if a prison were still sitting at that location, noting that the park, Salt Lake Country Club, Highland High School, trails, and vibrant neighborhoods probably would not exist if the state prison had not moved in 1951 to the current Draper facility.
Wilson noted that the current resolution does not specify a new location, but notes that resolution will ensure that the state considers proximity to volunteers and staff, medical facilities, and ensures that “we are not having this debate in another 50 to 75 years,” when choosing a new location. Wilson went on to add that “the current prison is old, it is falling apart… a new prison will enable more programming [such as] education, drug rehabilitation, sex offender treatment, those types of things,” and reminded the committee that the state “need[s] to add an additional 3,000 beds to accommodate the needs of the state.”
Though there was little in the way of opposition, lawmakers did express some general cautions when discussing a prison move. Representative Jim Bird (Republican – West Jordan) expressed concern about moving too fast and that, with such a massive amount of usable land becoming available, Draper City, along with local school districts and Salt Lake County, will need to consider potential growing pains. Representative Curt Oda (Republican – Clearfield) also noted that the area has proven to be rich with archaeological items and that development may be slower than expected as items are documented.
Maryann Martindale, Executive Director for Alliance for a Better Utah, expressed her change of heart when compared to last year when the legislature was debating the topic. “My position on this has changed from this time last year,” Martindale told the committee, “this is the right time to do this and we are moving in the right direction.” Martindale did express a general concern that, with a move, it is more likely that prison privatization may also take place, stating that it is “a policy that has failed in other states.”
Martindale also informed lawmakers that people still have the mindset of last year that it is “a boondoggle for the developers,” and that most citizens are still unaware of the changes that have taken place over the course of a year.
Wilson’s resolution would pass unanimously out of committee with a vote of 9-0 and will now be heard on the House floor.