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Consultant’s recommendations on prison move coming next week

SHARE Consultant’s recommendations on prison move coming next week
The Utah State Prison.

The Utah State Prison.

Steve C Wilson, File Photo, Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — The consultant hired to help the state determine whether to move the Utah State Prison said Thursday he'll be ready to make recommendations before the start of the 2014 Legislature.

But those recommendations won't include sites for a potential new prison, Brad Sassatelli of Texas-based MGT of America said after conducting a public hearing to hear concerns about moving the aging facility at Point of the Mountain.

"There's a lot of analysis that goes into it," Sassatelli said.

Although Tooele has often been mentioned as a possible place for a new prison, he announced at Thursday's hearing additional proposals were being accepted. Already a landowner in the Salt Lake Valley reportedly has expressed interest.

Sassatelli said he has not yet begun looking at where the prison could be moved, instead focusing on how sites would be evaluated. A major issue that would have to be considered, he said, is whether a site has community support.

Last month, members of the Prison Relocation and Development Authority expressed frustration at the pace of the project. The authority had voted in October to withdraw a request for bids and wait for the final report.

The final version of that report, a master plan outlining options for a nearly 700-acre prison site already being eyed by developers, isn't expected to be finished until June.

Sassatelli said he'll deliver his preliminary findings to the authority at its next meeting on Jan. 24. He has said that should be enough information for the authority to determine if it's ready to go forward with a move.

The report will assess the costs and benefits of relocating the 4,000-inmate facility, including the sale value of the property and the economic benefits of redeveloping the property, according to information provided at the hearing.

In addition to building a new prison, relocation options include housing more prisoners in county jails and expanding the state's other prison in Gunnison. Also examined will be the option of keeping the prison in Draper.

Lawmakers, who begin meeting Jan. 27, are anxious to hear from the authority. Gov. Gary Herbert has proposed spending $36 million to add about 180 beds to the Gunnison prison as part of his $13.3 billion budget.

Thursday's hearing covered many of the same issues that have been raised at previous authority meetings about the impact of moving the prison away from the state's population base.

"You don't need to move the prison. You've heard that over and over again," said Deborah Reithmuller, whose husband is a first-time offender incarcerated at Gunnison. "Don't spend our hard-earned money."

Reithmuller said the money a move would cost — as well as the $500,000 being paid to Sassatelli — would be better used providing education for inmates to prepare them for life on the outside.

Tanja Schaffer also asked that inmates' families be taken into account.

"Think how you would feel" if a new prison was put in a remote location, making it difficult to visit a loved one, she said.

"I don't hear a lot of people talking about the families," Schaffer said. "There are thousands and thousands and thousands of us. Because of that, we should matter."

Steve Folkerson, a volunteer at the Draper prison for the past 17 years for Alcoholics Anonymous and the LDS Church's addiction and recovery program, warned that many volunteers wouldn't be able to continue their work.

If a move means the inmates he and more than 1,000 others work with are no longer within a reasonable driving distance, Folkerson said the state will "lose a big percentage of volunteers."

Eric Rumple, a policy analyst for the left-leaning Alliance for a Better Utah, said the state's criminal justice policy needs to be reconsidered before any new prison facilities are built.

"We simply can't do it fast. We have to do it carefully and prudently," Rumple said. "I think that's going to result in a timeline that's longer than some people would prefer."

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