Utah State Prison may be packing up and moving out

Posted at 4:59 PM, Jan 24, 2014
and last updated 2014-01-24 19:31:06-05

DRAPER -- The Utah State Prison sits on prime real-estate here at the Point of the Mountain.

The sprawling 680-acre property is next to I-15, Bangerter Highway and a FrontRunner line. It's surrounded by housing and commercial businesses.

Now, a study commissioned by a state board set up to look at relocating it appears to give the go-ahead to moving the prison. It presented four options to the Prison Relocation and Development Authority (PRADA) -- and not one recommended keeping the Draper facility at its current location.

"If Draper is relocated, we recommend the construction of new prisons to replace it and to accommodate future population growth," said Brad Sassatelli, the MGT America consultant hired by PRADA to conduct the study.

The study noted that over the next 20 years, Utah's prison population is expected to keep growing -- enough to need a third prison. It would cost Utah taxpayers about $700 million to keep up the aging Draper facility.

The land the Utah State Prison sits on was appraised Friday at $130 million for developers. Building a mix of commercial, light industrial and housing could generate as much as $1.8 billion annually, creating more than 18,000 jobs on that site, the study claimed.

"I actually think in the long run, I think it would be tremendous," said Troy Walker, Draper's mayor and a member of the PRADA board. "Those numbers are phenomenal."

Relocating the prison is estimated to cost about a billion dollars. In an interview with FOX 13 News, Utah Department of Corrections Executive Director Rollin Cook said there were other factors that needed to be taken into account.

"From my point of view, it's time to move," he said. "But there's a lot of key factors. To me, the biggest priority is our staff, the inmates, the volunteers, all of the people that make that thing go. The programming, all of that has to be taken into consideration."

Those factors may also be a reason to keep the Utah State Prison at its existing location, some PRADA members noted in the meeting.

"For the same reasons that that particular location is attractive for commercial and residential, and multi-use development, the same reasons it's attractive for the (prison)," said PRADA citizen board member Camille Anthony.

Some questioned the projected growth in inmate population. Third District Court Judge Judith Atherton, who also serves on the PRADA board, quizzed Sassatelli about the escalating numbers.

"The underlying assumptions are what: that legislation will not change? Sentencing will not change? In addition to things like projected population growth, obviously," she asked.

"It uses the current situation to assume forward," Sassatelli replied.

But even past critics of the prison relocation said the numbers were promising. Maryann Martindale, the executive director of the progressive think-tank Alliance for a Better Utah, said it was her hope that relocating the prison would spur a larger discussion about sentencing reform -- reducing the inmate population.

"It's time to look at this," she told FOX 13 News. "But as part of that, we're hoping we really get a comprehensive criminal justice reform conversation going. Because this is an opportunity."

The PRADA board will meet again next month to discuss recommendations for the Utah State Legislature. A request for bids on a new prison facility could be made as soon as September 2014.