Why Not Us? Utah Explores Options for New State Prison

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By Kelcy Faimalo

In early 2014, the Utah State Legislature voted to move forward with the relocation of the state’s largest correctional facility in Draper. This decision was followed up with efforts to find a new location to present to lawmakers in 2015.
The list, which began with 26 locations, has now been narrowed down to three:

• I-80 and 7200 South in Salt Lake City
• Near Eagle Mountain
• Tooele County, near Miller Motor Sports Park

Many residents of Eagle Mountain, Saratoga Springs and Tooele County have expressed their unease of having the prison moved to their area. Residents of Saratoga Springs have said that moving the prison there would eventually incite the need to move the prison again within the next 10-20 years because of the area’s growth.

According to a UtahPolicy.com poll conducted by Dan Jones and Associates, nearly 55% of voters polled are opposed to moving the prison at all, while nearly 20% think that the prison should be relocated somewhere off the Wasatch Front.

Though many residents in more developed areas of the state are adamantly opposed to having the prison moved to their neighborhood, Sanpete County Economic Development Director Kevin Christensen said that building the state prison in Gunnison has greatly helped the economy in their small rural community.

When the Central Utah Correctional Facility was built in 1990, there were those who were not initially on board with the project. According to Christensen, members of the community were worried having a prison in the town would attract unwanted visitors or give their town a bad reputation.

However, Christensen said the prison has done wonders to their local economy. Initially, the prison brought close to 400 jobs with staying power to the area.

“Most of the jobs are state jobs, which gives employees government benefits,” Christensen said. “I would say the positives far outweigh the negatives as far as helping our community here in Gunnison.”

The CUCF is still expanding. In 2014, legislators approved an expansion of 192 beds to the facility, which will bring in approximately 25 more jobs to the area, according to Christensen.

“There was even talk about adding 900 more beds to Gunnison as part of the relocation,” Christensen said. “I know some of those towns don’t want the prison, but we’ll take all we can get, we like it and the good it does for our community.”

This begs the question: why hasn’t Carbon or Emery County been mentioned on the list of potential sites?

When the legislature proposed relocating, it specified several strict criteria that must be met when identifying a plot of land on which to build.

These criteria include looking at whether the state currently owns land where a new prison could be built, inmate programming that encourages a reduction of relapse into criminal behavior, maintaining an adequate level of volunteer and staff support, proximity to medical facilities, access to courts, expansion capabilities and emergency response factors to name a few.

Though relocating the prison to Carbon or Emery County could greatly benefit the local communities, it is unclear whether or not there is a suitable location that would fit the stringent criteria set by Utah legislators.

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