Study examines impact of moving prison to Tooele County, residents react

Posted at 10:08 PM, Oct 15, 2014

TOOELE COUNTY, Utah --- Moving the Utah State Prison from Draper to Tooele County would have a negative impact on health, according to a new study from Westminster College of Utah.

The Tooele County Health Department contracted Westminster health professionals to conduct the study. The results were released Wednesday night.

Some of the focal points of the study included how a prison would impact mental health, housing and water in the area.

"Mental health services are limited here, the resources are exhausted," said Dr. John Contreras, Westminster Public Health Professor.

Contreras also said family members of prisoners sometimes like to live near the prison, and he doesn't think the housing market is currently conducive to a family's typical income.

"The housing market, there isn't any subsidized housing in Tooele County," Contreras said.

As for water, he also said the county is not ready for the influx of people.

"Water is at a premium here and is a limited resource in terms of providing the prison with the water," Contreras said.

Westminster also surveyed more than 500 residents. Their greatest concern was how a prison would affect crime rates.

"What the research shows is generally crime does not go up based on when a prison actually moves to a location," said Heather Bertottisarin, who is a graduate student at Westminster.

The county's main concern was communicable diseases.

"What we found out is really the prison system is pretty well self-contained, it's handled pretty well in house, very low susceptibility of diseases transferring from the prison to the community," said Jeff Coombs, Deputy Director of the Tooele County Health Department.

The county said the results of the study leaves them in a neutral position, while residents have been more decisive.

"I think it will help people form opinions if they are for it or against it, you know it will be up to each individual," Coombs said.

Tooele is one of four potential counties where the new prison could be built. The final decision will be made during the 2015 session of the state legislature.