Photo: DR04/Wikimedia Commons
With the growth of the Utah prison population not showing any signs of slowing and the vote by 2014 Utah Legislature to move the current Draper prison, a Prison Relocation Commission was assembled and tasked with finding the best site for the new prison. Several options were created and many sites have been suggested and considered. However, the committee is finding that when it comes to the Utah prison relocation effort, while many Utahns may support stricter penalties for criminal activity and oppose decriminalization of certain drug offenses, few residents want to see the necessary infrastructure required to support such a legal system in their backyard.
Brief History of the Utah Prison Relocation Efforts
The growth rate of the Utah inmate population is being estimated at approximately 2 percent per year, a projection which puts the current prison location in Draper short thousands of beds over the next two decades. According to reports from KSL News, in January of 2014, a study put together by an independent firm hired to help with the Utah prison relocation presented four options for making the move as soon as 2018, or as late as 2024. These options ranged from immediate demolition of the prison located at Point of the Mountain, with or without increases in jail capacities, to two options that would phase out the Draper prison with differing final end dates.
A fifth option was to keep Draper as the prison site for the next 50 years, but according to Prison Relocation Commission member and Utah State Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns, there will still be “a massive dollar figure behind not relocating the prison.” Most agree that the best move is the prison relocation.
In June, it was announced that the state would start developing criteria for a new location, such as ease of access, pre-existing infrastructure, and a population base able to staff and volunteer at the facility. The Commission would also be focusing on a few communities in specific.
While speculation abounded, the names of these communities weren’t released to the public until October, and even then the Commission stated they might have been premature. Regardless, residents of many of the communities have already started voicing their opposition to the Utah prison relocation into their neighborhood. Owen Jackson, the manager of public relations and economic development for Saratoga Springs, one of the communities on the potential list, stated, “We don’t have an interest in it being in our community…It doesn’t fit.” A Facebook page dedicated to opposition of the relocation has already garnered over 1,000 signatures on a petition.
In addition to Saratoga Springs, the Commission seems to have narrowed the list to three other sites, all of which are in Salt Lake County. Two potential sites in Tooele County were taken off the list after the decision that they were too far from the current site in Draper, but also because of “lukewarm community support,” with only 44 percent of the County residents in favor of the move.
Utah Prison Relocation and NIMBY
NIMBY is an acronym which stands for “Not In My Back Yard” and reflects an attitude held by some that while a new development may be good or necessary—anything from transportation hubs to group homes to strip malls. And yes, prisons—they don’t necessarily want that type of development going up in their neighborhood.
Arguments against such development include:
- Decreased property values
- Increased traffic
- Additional environmental, light, or noise pollution
- Strain of public resources
- Increased crime
Many of these factors influence the dissent of those who oppose the Utah prison relocation into their “back yard,” even if the development may benefit the community. According to Randy Sant, an economic development consultant, the Utah prison relocation could have the same impacts as “a major industry coming into the community.”
Even though it’s hard to argue the economic advantages of such a move, early on it was recognized that finding a location might be difficult. Bob Nardi, a consultant with the same firm that composed the independent study for the State, stressed the importance of finding a willing and receptive community. “What cannot be engineered is a community that is not interested.”
However, choosing an appropriate location for a prison goes beyond which community the Commission believes should benefit economically. Several other factors play into the decision more than perhaps where to locate a new strip mall. Even though Owen Jackson stated a prison didn’t “fit” in Saratoga Springs, according to the Prison Relocation Commission, they have all of the qualifications.
Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, was quoted as saying that the potential Saratoga Springs site had neighboring facilities “that are probably compatible” with a prison, such as an asphalt plant, power corridor, Camp Williams, and Bureau of Land Management property. Stevenson believes these commodities make the site an area unattractive to other residential development.
Other criteria considered for the Utah prison relocation sites included a 100 point scale with factors such as proximity to staff, volunteers and families of inmates at the Point of the Mountain prison. Community acceptance was given a point value of 15. Clearly the residents of these communities believe that number should be higher.
Something’s Gotta Give
While the overpopulation of prison systems reflects the decisions of individuals to commit crimes, it can’t be denied that it is also demonstrative of a society that believes in a criminal justice system that imposes more and longer sentences for those crimes, a system which has been shown in numerous studies to be ineffective in regards to reducing rates of recidivists [repeat offenders].
A council chairman for another of the communities being researched as a potential site went so far as to say, “There’s a sense of frustration at the thought that the state would consider putting a prison complex in our community. It’s just surprising.”
An interesting question to put to those citizens would be what their solution is to the growing prison population. Would they be willing to support programs aimed at reducing redicivism through other means besides increasing prison sentences? Such as the treatment programs that Rep. Hutchings is working toward through a subgroup he is leading. If not, their proverbial “hat in the ring” should be as fair game as other communities able to support a new prison.
While the Prison Relocation Commission stated in June that they would like to have a site selected before the start of the 2015 Legislature in January, it looks like the time table may have to be pushed back so long as opposition is so strong.