clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

We welcome an audit showing the true costs, benefits and projections for the Draper prison site

Current Utah State Prison location Friday, Feb. 27, 2015, in Draper Utah. A group that wants to keep the Utah State Prison in Draper has already run into trouble in their attempt to launch a referendum to repeal a new law that includes financing for the r
Current Utah State Prison location Friday, Feb. 27, 2015, in Draper Utah. A group that wants to keep the Utah State Prison in Draper has already run into trouble in their attempt to launch a referendum to repeal a new law that includes financing for the relocation process.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

The decision whether to relocate the current state prison in Draper may be the largest capital facility decision in Utah history. This is not only because of the massive size of the prison but because prisons, by their nature, are among the most important facilities a government can build and operate.

Few powers can compare with that of allowing government to deny people their freedom as punishment for crimes committed, and few responsibilities compare with that of rehabilitating prisoners and preparing them to re-enter society as contributing members.

Given all this, we support what appears to be a growing feeling among lawmakers and members of the public to submit the figures compiled by the consulting firm MGT America to an independent audit. Those figures have been used to argue that moving the prison and allowing private developers to build on the site would result in $94.6 million annually in new state and local tax collections. It has projected a 41 percent increase in the state’s inmate population by 2033.

Another popular figure in this discussion is $1.8 billion, the value of the economic development projected to fill that land once the prison is gone.

Any independent audit should take into account whether the same economic development would come to the state anyway, as a consequence of its robust economy, but in a different location. It also should consider the true cost of rebuilding the prison on-site, and it should consider how new methods of punishment, including home confinement and therapy for drug users, rather than incarceration, might affect prison populations.

Proponents of prison relocation are quick to argue that the current dilapidated prison structures cannot simply be remodeled. They are antiquated and incompatible with modern prison practices. But Salt Lake City is in the middle of completely rebuilding its international airport without disrupting daily traffic. Surely a prison could be torn down and replaced bit by bit in a similar manner.

But perhaps beyond the scope of an audit are the human considerations. The current prison site allows the Department of Corrections to take advantage of an impressive supply of local volunteers who provide religious leadership and counseling. The current location also provides easy access for families of inmates as well as freeway access for the easy transport of prisoners to and from courts.

These advantages might be duplicated at other locations around the Salt Lake metropolitan area, but so far lawmakers have been unable to propose a site without attracting protests. Meanwhile, the current prison site seems to have been given short shrift in the discussion, with lawmakers voting a year ago to move the facility, despite not having a new location in mind.

Proponents of a move like to talk about the highest and best use for the land in Draper. Indeed, the current prison site would be prime for development, with easy access to a freeway and mass transit. But regardless of monetary considerations, it’s hard to imagine a higher or better use for land than for saving lives that have run so far afoul of the law as to risk the safety of others.

Perhaps the Draper site really isn’t a good place for a prison of the future. If the proponents are confident in their figures, they shouldn’t worry about an independent audit.

Surely all sides ought to agree that such a big decision deserves careful and deliberate consideration. We urge the Legislative Audit Subcommittee to conduct an independent review that would help lawmakers proceed with confidence.