Department of Corrections offers prison tour to demonstrate need for new facility

Posted at 10:02 PM, Feb 26, 2015

DRAPER, Utah – There has been much debate over the possibility of relocating the Utah State Prison, and on Thursday the Department of Corrections offered a tour of the Draper facility to demonstrate how badly they need a new prison.

The buildings at the Utah State Prison were built between 1951 and 2000, and Executive Director Rollin Cook said he is tired of hearing about quick fixes.

"All you need to do is tear down a couple of buildings and you're good to go--If we want to change the way we do criminal justice: That is absolutely not true,” he said.

The tour of the facility showed off places like the control room, which is the “brains” of the building and is using technology from 1983.

Officials said the prison also has seven entrances, which Warden Scott Crowther said can be problematic.

"Every time we have people come into our facilities, we have seven different entrance points to our facilities, and that, again, is seven opportunities for family members, friends, people to introduce contraband to our facilities."

Most modern prisons have single entry and exit points. Another issue is that the unit housing 700 female inmates was originally designed for law-breaking minors. The original women’s section is now the Olympus Mental Health Facility, which has 160 beds but only 12 beds for inmates with more severe mental illness issues. They are referred to as level two inmates.

"Schizophrenics, bi-polar, people who are severely depressed, people who are suicidal, had a severe suicidal attempt, so we're watching them," a prison official said.

John Morrel is a drug addict who has been behind bars nine times since 1992, and he said there are advantages to the dorm-living approach at Olympus.

"Over here, no gangbangers or nothing, just normal people like nice people and stuff,” he said. “You ain't got to worry about getting beat to death or nothing over here."

William Hopkins has been in and out of prison for 20 years, and he said he thinks more could be done for inmates who have mental health issues.

"Programs and therapy should be one of the top priorities, because without the programs and therapy you're just warehousing,” he said.

Cook said most of the things at the prison are currently in a “make do” state. Cook said he doesn’t know where the new facility should be built, but he said a new facility is needed.