SALT LAKE CITY -- Five potential sites have been identified for the Utah State Prison to move to, but opponents continue to insist that it stay put in Draper.
At a meeting Friday, the Prison Relocation Commission announced the new sites. They are:
- An expanded site near I-80 and 7200 West, near the Salt Lake City International Airport;
- An industrial park near SR 138 and I-80 in Tooele Co.;
- A new site near the town of Fairfield, in Utah Co.;
- A site near Eagle Mountain;
- A site near Grantsville.
"It's important that we find a new site and get a new prison built because we need one," said Rep. Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, who chairs the Prison Relocation Commission. "The one we have now is falling apart. It’s standing in the way of all these reforms and opportunities."
On Friday, the commission was also briefed by hired consultants about what a new prison would look like. Instead of razor wire and guard towers, it appears more like a campus. Prison consultants urged the state to consider new technologies and designs to better facilitate rehabilitation and incarceration.
The room for the commission meeting was packed with opponents who held signs protesting plans to move the prison.
"I think they could do every bit as good a job just leaving it where it is," said Jerry Edwards, a Grantsville resident who opposes prison relocation.
Governor Gary Herbert has signaled that he is open to keeping the prison in Draper, despite prior comments that gave support to moving it.
But commissioners insist that the aging Draper facility needs to be moved. Utah Dept. of Corrections Executive Director Rollin Cook worried that keeping it at the same site would mean they would still grapple with crumbling buildings.
"It’ll be, 'We’ll build you a couple of buildings, replace those that were built in the '50s and you get to keep those built in the '70s,'" he said.
Prison relocation is tied to efforts for criminal justice reforms (including a recent push to drop the level of charges in drug offenses) and, to a lesser extent, Medicaid expansion. Supporters of the move said that even though most don't want it in their backyard, it must go somewhere.
"It’s fundamental to what our criminal justice system needs right now," said Anna Brower with the ACLU of Utah. "Nobody wants a prison. We get that. It’s a part of our society we love to throw people in there, but we don’t like to deal with them ever afterward. And that attitude has to change."
The prison site is expected to be selected by late spring or early summer. Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, told FOX 13 that a bill was being drafted to give the Prison Relocation Commission authority to select a site. Critics have suggested that it would give lawmakers political cover in case it winds up in their backyard, but Senate Republican leaders point out the legislature would still have to approve funding.