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It's April: What's New with the Prison Relocation?

04 May 2015 Published in The ACLU of Utah Activist

Plenty has been happening...so let's dive right in with some news on the prison relocation. 

Has the New Prison Relocation/Development Commission Started to Meet Publicly? No. 

No meeting set yet for the Prison Development (formerly Relocation) Commission. The last official public news was that the same five sites are still up for consideration - as presented in the February 27 PRC meeting - and that there is NO official ranking of those sites. The full presentation by MGT of America from that meeting is posted at the bottom of this post for your information.

Does Any CONVENIENTLY Located City Want the Prison? Also No.

In the aftermath of publicity around the "sales tax sweetener" in the authorizing legislation for the Prison Development Commission (PDC), there was lots of rough talk about the nature of correctional facilities - not just prisons, but also transitional facilities - in local communities.

Much of this talk - about crime and nuisance problems caused by community correctional facilities - is not based in fact, and is pretty unfair to the people who live and work in those facilities.

Things seem to have toned down in the past week, but for a while, the rhetoric was getting kind of heated. It's important that while we have these discussions about facility siting, we don't stigmatize people under supervision, or the people who supervise them.  

Is the "Keep It In Draper" Referendum Dead? Not Yet.

In the past month, a group submitted an application to get a "Keep It In Draper" referendum on the ballot, to repeal HB454, which set up the next phase of the Commission. They seem to have plenty of support for this effort, but missed the filing deadline for their application.

The group, with support from Rep. Fred Cox of West Valley City, filed a special writ with the Utah Supreme Court, asking it to help them out by accepting the application (the submission process for which is somewhat confusing, with regards to "laws" that have not yet been signed into law). The Court should decide in the next day or two whether it will take the case.

There is a lot of public support for keeping the prison in Draper, captured nicely here in an Op-Ed by Ralph Carlson. The author does a decent job of pointing out that Draper is a very good site for the prison (clearly, because the prison has functioned very well there for 50+ years!). I think what the author OVERestimates is the public - and hence elected officials' - interest in spending ANY money on the prison, if the relocation issue is off the table.

Call me a cynic, but I don't have much faith that when people stop fearing that the prison will end up near THEM, they will show ANY interest in the wellbeing of the men and women who are incarcerated at the Utah State Prison.

What is the evidence of that? Well, here's Exhibit A in how well we have been funding the treatment of inmates in our state (medical treatment for aging and sick inmates). Here's Exhibit B (appropriate facilities for the mentally ill). Here's Exhibit C (sufficient rehabilitative treatment for sex offenders). You get the idea.

These individuals may not seem worthy of your tax dollars, but we have a right and an obligation to ensure their humane and fair treatment. The ACLU of Utah has been fighting for the rights of incarcerated people  for decades, and we can say from experience, it is an uphill battle to get the public and elected officials to care about "those people."

One of the best things that the prison relocation discussion has done - aside from launching the Justice Reinvestment Initiative that led to unprecedented criminal justice reform, of course!  - is give Utahns a reason to even acknowledge that there ARE human beings living behind bars at the Point of the Mountain. We are obligated (by the Constitution and by our shared humanity) to treat them appropriately.

So What's the Prison Relocation Timeline?

In mid-May, the Prison Development Commission will hold a series of "Open Houses," presumably to correct some of the rumors circulating about "preferred sites" and so forth. I'll let you know as soon as there is publicly available information about that! Currently, MGT of America (the PDC's master design consultant) is evaluating the five sites, which are still:

  • The FIRST Eagle Mountain Site - the consultants call this "Lake Mountains West," it's in Utah County at the very south end of Eagle Mountain city.
  • The OTHER Eagle Mountain Site (aka the Fairfield Site) - this is southwest of Eagle Mountain City and west of Fairfield.
  • The Airport Site - this is the one at 1-80/7200 West, actually several miles west of the airport in Salt Lake County.
  • The Tooele/Motor Sports Park Site - this is the one in Tooele, on SR112, in Tooele County.
  • The Grantsville Site - this one is pretty close to the Motor Sports Park Site; it's on SR138, also in Tooele County.

They are doing advanced ecological, environmental, economic studies of each site (also, almost certainly, trying to figure out who will hate LEAST being the new prison host), intending to come back to the Commission in JUNE with a recommendation.

The authorizing legislation for the Prison Development Commission says it is to make an official recommendation to the Governor and Legislature by AUGUST 1 - and then there will be a special legislative session called, and our elected officials will approve or not approve the recommended site.