The local health department is set to study the health effects of moving the Utah State Prison to Tooele County, even though the legislative committee that will select a site for the new prison has not held its first meeting.
A Tooele County Health Department official announced Monday that TCHD applied for and received a $21,000 grant funded by the Center for Disease Control to study the health impacts of relocating the state prison to the county. “With Tooele County being mentioned during the legislative session as a possible site for the new prison, I thought it would be good idea to gather some good information on the impact of a prison on the community,” said Myron Bateman, TCHD director, who also pursued the grant.
The grant is not part of the state’s official study on prison relocation.
“County officials and citizens need accurate data to make decisions,” said Jeff Coombs, TCHD deputy director, “and the CDC is interested in data on the impact of a large prison on health in a rural community.”
The study will look at the impact of relocating a population of 4,500 prisoners on social services, mental health resources, and communicable diseases, according to Coombs.
“We don’t know what to expect,” he said. “That’s why we need to do the study.”
Coombs said the health department may use a third party consultant and academia to help with the study.
“The study will most likely require surveys to gather data from the public,” he said. “We want people to know if they get a survey connected to moving the prison that it is legitimate.”
Coombs estimates the study will be completed by Oct. 1.
The possibility of Tooele County becoming the new home for the state prison dates back three years ago. A commission charged with studying the financial feasibility of moving the state prison included Rush Valley in a field trip to potential prison sites.
However, the commission’s report concluded that moving the prison was financially viable, but did not suggest a new location for the prison.
The sale of the current prison land in Draper, along with operational savings at a modern facility, would cover most of the $600 million estimated price tag for moving the state prison, according to the committee’s report.
However, the real incentive for moving the prison was in the use of the land that would be vacated by the old prison. The committee estimated 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.
In 2013 the legislature created a new committee to study moving the state prison. The Prison Relocation and Development Agency was organized and hired a consulting firm to prepare a study on prison relocation.
The consultant’s report estimated that local and state revenues associated with developing the current prison site, once the prison is relocated, to be $94.6 million annually.
The total economic benefit to the state would be $1.8 billion annually, according to the consultant’s report.
The 2014 legislature passed legislation last month to create a third committee on prison relocation. This committee received a $5 million allocation from the state for the analysis, selection, and planning related to the development of new prison sites. It was also charged with the responsibility to select a site or sites for a new state prison.