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Inside the new Utah State Prison

Posted at 9:45 PM, May 05, 2021

SALT LAKE CITY — After years of construction, several of the buildings at the new Utah State Prison are nearing completion.

The prison site, west of Salt Lake International Airport essentially functions like a small, isolated city.

Within the prison’s secure perimeter are about 132 acres where many of the prison’s key buildings are found along a main corridor.

Among them are the Maximum Security building, four General Population buildings, an Infirmary, and a building which will house female inmates.

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When the prison begins taking in inmates sometime in 2022, the first stop for many, will likely be the Maximum Security, regardless of the length of their sentence or severity of their crime.

“It’s one person per cell,” said Mike Ambre, Project Director for the Division of Facilities Construction and Management for the State of Utah.

The idea is to securely introduce inmates to the prison, and with good behavior, allow them to work their way toward more benefits.

Ambre says a feature found in the new prison and not at the current Draper Prison is a specially designed hallway behind a glass partition which allows inmates more fluid movement to access basic functions. “What makes this great for the staff and the inmate is that they don’t have to get shackled to get released for their rec time or to go to the shower,” said Ambre.

Maximum security inmates can receive visitors, but can only talk with them from behind a glass barrier.

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When an inmate is allowed to be move to one of the prison’s General Population buildings there will be more perks, including in-person visitation with loved ones, and more socialization with other inmates. Some cells in General Population are two man cells, while others hold up to eight inmates.

“When the administration feels that a particular inmate can live in safety, can progress, then they’ll be placed in one of these eight man cells. Which most of our inmates are like that. Most of them want to progress they want to learn,” said Steven Turley, Division Director of Prison Projects with the Utah Department of Corrections.

The new prison embraces a direct supervision style of inmates which Turley says has been successful in other states. Guards are essentially stationed in the center of a cluster of cells, which allows them to more easily see what’s happening around them, even inside of cell by way of glass partitions. While this may result in a bit less privacy for inmates, it may have a substantial impact on the number of violent incidents between inmates.

“Wherever an officer is stationed at they can see the whole area without corners and hiding places and things like that,” said Shane Nelson, Deputy Director of Prison Operations, and a former warden at the Utah State Prison in Gunnison, who said high-tech security measures in the new facility will also be utilized. “We have cameras around every corner, we have microphones,” Nelson said.

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In a separate building on the prison’s campus is a mental health infirmary with 40 beds. It also has meeting rooms for therapists within. Turley says the Draper facility currently only has “somewhere around eight” beds for those needing extra care for mental health issues, and moving inmates from those beds to other areas to access professional care is sometimes burdensome for both staff and inmates.

The infirmary, like other buildings which will house inmates, also has its own dedicated recreation yard, so inmates here will have more privacy and protection from the larger numbers of inmates elsewhere.

All buildings within the new prison complex have windows, and some have skylights. This is intentionally, and noticeably different from most of the buildings at the Draper Prison.

While some buildings look nearly finished, others, like the women’s building still need significant work. Inmates are expected to be moved to the new prison sometime in mid to late 2022.