Tooele County may or may not be in the sights of a committee charged with developing plans for a new state prison, but the panel is slated to meet on Feb. 5 and take action on a consultant’s recommendations.
Brad Sassatelli of MGT of America, a Tallahassee, Fla.-based criminal justice and public safety consulting firm, presented a preliminary study last week to the committee that identified several options for the future of Utah’s prison at Draper in Salt Lake County.
Tooele County has been considered as a location for a new prison, but local officials are still waiting on data about the facility’s impact on the community before making a decision.
“Before we can decide if the prison is something we want to go out all hog for and support, or something we would actively oppose, we need some hard data,” said Tooele County Commissioner Shawn Milne.
Milne said he has more questions than answers — the same ones he had a year ago. The commissioner wants to know how many jobs would the prison bring to Tooele County, how much would they pay, and how many employees would live in the county as opposed to commuting from their homes in Salt Lake County.
He also wants to know about the possible negative impacts the facility could pose for the area.
“I think we still support the concept of moving the prison to Tooele County,” he said, “but before we can go any farther, we need more information from the people that have the answers.”
The options that the prison relocation and development committee will consider at its Feb. 5 meeting include building a new prison in a new location and tearing down the old one; a plan to gradually phase out the old prison while building new facilities; and increasing the amount of prisoners shipped out to county jails.
The committee will also consider keeping the prison at its current location and upgrading or building new facilities at the Draper site.
Regardless of the option, Utah will need an additional 3,000 beds by 2033, according to Sassatelli. His report does not recommend a site for a new prison.
Tooele County’s legislators were caught off guard one year ago when Gov. Gary Herbert announced support for a plan to move the state prison from Draper to a new location during his state of the state address.
Tooele County’s Rush Valley was one of the prospective sites visited by a planning committee. That panel forwarded a report to the governor, which said moving the prison to free up land in Draper for economic development was a good idea. However, the committee’s report did not recommend a new location.
In meetings with local legislators in 2013, Tooele County officials pitched Timpie as a possible location for a new prison. Tooele County Commissioners unanimously passed a resolution stating they supported the concept of moving the state prison to Tooele County.
The legislature is currently undecided about the fate of the Utah State Prison, according to Sen. Pete Knudson, R-Brigham City, who also represents part of Tooele County.
“We currently have a log jam because there is no consensus among my fellow senators about the prison,” Knudson said while speaking to a group of citizens in Tooele at a town hall meeting last week. “Some want to invest more money in the existing prison. Others want more money to spread the prison population throughout county facilities in the state.”
The 2012 prison relocation committee that prompted Herbert’s support for moving the prison felt that the sale of the current prison land, combined with operational savings at a modern facility, would cover most of the $600 million estimated price tag. However, the real incentive for moving the prison lies in the use of the land that would be vacated by the old prison.
Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, who chaired the original prison relocation committee, told a legislative committee that over the course of 25 years the economic development of the former prison site could put $20 billion into the Utah economy and create 40,000 jobs.
The legislature created another prison relocation committee in 2013 and charged it with the ability to request proposals for demolishing the current prison, transfer the land upon which the current prison resides to private ownership, and to develop a new prison in another location.
Utah, Weber, and Davis counties have expressed interest in the prison, and a possible location near Salt Lake International Airport has also been discussed as a new prison site.
Both the legislature and the governor will have to approve any proposal for moving the prison.