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Tooele County wins bid for prison

After months of haggling, negotiations, protests and hand wringing, the state announced Monday it has settled on Tooele County as the site for a new privatized prison.

Four companies, including Utah based MTC, were in a bid battle to build and operate the state's first privatized correctional facility.Cornell Corrections Inc., of California, will be paid $62.84 a day per inmate to house and manage the 500-bed prison in Grantsville.

"Cornell is one of the largest private prison contractors in the country," Ford said. "Since this is the direction we are going to try, we have put some real tight restrictions on the contract."

The communities of Fillmore, Duchesne and Wendover had been under consideration to house the prison, which is expected to be completed a year from when the contract signing is formalized.

Cornell proposed building the facility 12 miles northwest of Grantsville, an area of Utah dominated by federal land and thus tax poor.

Government leaders in Tooele welcomed the private prison proposal, which is expected to provide around 100 jobs and a windfall in new revenue.

Tooele County Commissioner Gary Griffith said the commission had previously supported the prison coming into the county and now that Grantsville has been chosen, "we would support that decision because the people of Grantsville, who are the most closely concerned, have voiced their support for it."

Griffith said the privately owned and operated prison will be a welcome source of property taxes and employment.

"We tend to be a bedroom community, so it's nice to have a business located here. It's important for our people to have jobs to work at."

Griffith said he had been told the new facility would create between 200 and 250 new jobs.

Community support was one of the key factors in deciding what company would get the bid. Many residents in Fillmore and Duchesne, for example, were split over the pros and cons, with some strongly objecting to having a prison in their back yard.

Tooele, in contrast, had very little public opposition to a prison.

Privatizing part of the prison system has been the subject of hot debates on Capitol Hill and throughout the state for more than a year.

At a Legislative hearing last summer, protesters accused the corrections companies of trafficking in human souls and incarcerating people for profit.

State Department of Corrections Executive Director Pete Haun has said he wants to move "cautiously" into the arena of privatization. Any contract, he has insisted, needs to give the state a voice in how the prison is operated. The department also wants an on-site liason.

Steve Erickson, with the Utah Citizens Education Project, has led the charge against the state privatizing any portion of its prison system.

"This is a big disappointment that the state continues to go forward on a bad bargain. But the deal isn't sealed until the contract is negotiated and executed," he said Monday. "We will continue to fight to get a reassessment of this bankrupt policy of stuffing inmates into a corporate lockup."

Erickson said his group is having a press conference on the private prison issue at 3 p.m. Tuesday at the state Capitol.

Ford said the Department of Corrections is moving slowly on the privatization process.

"We are going to watch it very closely. This is the first one, and we want to make sure it is done right. We are taking no chances on anything. But we feel good about Cornell. They are one of the better ones in the country."

Deseret News staff writer Jose Luis Sanchez Jr. contributed to this report.