What's all this talk about possibly moving the Utah State Prison?
The last two times anyone crunched the numbers — once during Gov. Olene Walker's administration and again early on in Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.'s term — the conclusion was the finances didn't make sense. There also was concern that the Utah Department of Corrections, which has a difficult time competing with higher-paying county correctional facilities for workers, needed to stay put for the convenience of employees. There are logistical issues, too, such as ready access to medical and hospital care as well as transporting inmates to court appearances.
So it was a surprise, to say the least, to learn that Senate President John Valentine had "a number of tricks up (his) sleeve" regarding a possible relocation of the state prison. "We may yet see the prison moved from the Point of the Mountain," Valentine told a large gathering of Kiwanians recently, noting he knew a lot more than he could say and that he was scheduled to meet with Department of Corrections executive director Tom Patterson.
A department spokeswoman said there are no new plans to move the prison, and changes will be made only if they are economically feasible. A 2005 study said it would cost more to move the prison than the state would gain from the sale and development of the 670-acre prison campus at the Point of the Mountain. Some public officials have since said the estimates in the study were too conservative and would be substantially higher now.
It strikes us odd, though, in an election year and with the real estate market in such a slump, that this issue has resurfaced. In a perfect world, the state prison wouldn't be a prominent feature as one enters Salt Lake County. But Utah was a vastly different place when the prison was established there in 1951. It since has been swallowed up by surrounding residences and businesses whose owners probably do not relish the idea of having a prison as their closest neighbor.
Still, it was there first. And unless Valentine has evidence that the prison could operate safely, economically and efficiently elsewhere, it should stay put. If he has information to the contrary, he should share it with the public.