Opinion: Think leaders can’t cooperate on big things?
The site of the current state prison in Draper will become an innovation hub and a cultural, commercial and recreation center for the region. That, plus the new prison, are a testament to collaborative and transparent efforts.
A famous Winston Churchill quote reads, “Everybody stumbles across a golden opportunity at least once in a lifetime. Unfortunately most people just pick themselves up, dust themselves down, and walk away from it.” The relocation of the state prison from the Point of the Mountain is one such “golden opportunity” with the potential to benefit Utahns for generations to come.
The need for a new state prison has been pressing for a decade. As co-chair of the Prison Relocation Commission, I saw firsthand the inadequacies of the dated prison facilities in Draper and learned how those inadequacies hampered our ability to achieve the goals of our criminal justice system. The decadesold design of the Draper prison was simply not built for our modern approach to corrections that focuses on reforming the behaviors of convicted criminals, reducing recidivism and preparing inmates to reintegrate into society once their sentences have been served.
Earlier this month, I joined many of my colleagues from the Utah House of Representatives on a tour of the new state prison located nine miles west of Salt Lake City International Airport. Set to open this month, with inmate transfers to follow over the summer, this facility will be the finest of its kind anywhere in the country with the space, design and functionality needed to protect public safety and improve social outcomes. Our yearslong investigation into the prison relocation revealed that these improvements were not possible or cost effective through remodel or expansion of the current prison site.
The Draper prison initially housed 547 inmates upon its opening in 1953. Today, the prison holds 2,563 inmates and at its peak held 4,000 inmates. During its peak occupancy, the kitchens ran graveyard shifts to serve as many as 11,000 meals on insulated trays at each housing unit. The new prison will have capacity to serve more than 12,000 meals per day in only 12 hours.
Additionally, the Draper prison infirmary has 20 beds, eight mental health beds and 12 medical beds. By comparison, the new prison has 36 medical infirmary beds and 40 acute mental health beds, eight for females and 32 for males. There are also 144 beds for sub-acute mentally ill housing. This new facility is better for inmates, better for our corrections officers and better for the state.
It can be difficult for new Utahns to imagine, but when the prison was originally built, Draper was on the outskirts of town. That is obviously no longer the case as the Point of the Mountain is now the intersection of two of the nation’s fastest growing metro areas. Moving the prison and opening over 700 acres of state land in the heart of this population corridor presents us with a generational opportunity — one that can have an immediate impact with benefits that extend across our state and ripple through generations. Such an opportunity is one we have to get right.
Over the past few years, the Point of the Mountain Development Commission and State Land Authority have spent countless hours gathering public input and developing a plan for the area now known as “The Point,” which will become the innovation hub of our state and be a cultural, commercial and recreation center for the region.
The long-range plan calls for development to begin in 2026 and will ultimately include 7,400 residential units, 8.5 million square feet of commercial and civic space, an innovation center designed to focus on research and development and almost 150 acres of green space.
This master-planning approach, rather than an ad hoc development, will maximize Utahns’ economic and social benefits. A study by the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute shows that simply selling land to the highest bidder would result in about one-sixth of the number of jobs, a fraction of the economic impact and none of the innovative and community-centered benefits anticipated under the current plan.
In a time when many people understandably wonder whether people and communities can come together to do big, important things, constructing a new state-of-the-art prison and developing a world-class innovation hub is a testament to what we can accomplish when we combine our best thinking and efforts in a collaborative and transparent manner. The result is something that will pay massive dividends for all Utahns for decades to come.
Brad Wilson is the Speaker of the Utah House of Representatives