A few months ago, it looked as though the prison move was pretty much a done deal. But the last few weeks have made it look a little less of a sure thing.
At the initial meeting where the prison relocation commission, made up primarily of legislators, announced their top six sites, protesters from Eagle Mountain and Saratoga Springs filled the room holding signs protesting their inclusion on the list. Since then, Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker and several city council members have held not one but two press conferences demanding to be removed from consideration. And Tooele, who has expressed somewhat reserved interest in housing a new prison, is not happy with the specific site the commission included.
Adding to the protests over specific sites is a growing public voice questioning the need to move the prison at all from its current location.
Draper contends that they have done their part for king and country by housing the prison for the last 60+ years. But rural communities contend that they shouldn’t be the defacto dumping ground for things the more populated areas don’t want.
One thing is for certain. We have to have a prison and the current prison is aging out of operation at a very fast pace. The commission has promised that a move and a new prison would bring much needed reforms that if implemented would likely not only reduce the number of people sent to prison, but also mean that fewer would return. These changes would not just be a benefit to society from a philosophical perspective but also an economic one as it would translate to a need for fewer prison beds.
But there are still a lot of issues that need to be addressed before the public should consider supporting a prison move.
If legislators can prove to taxpayers that they will get the maximum revenue from the land in Draper, meaning they don’t give ridiculous tax breaks to companies who relocate there, they don’t sell it for less-than-market value to friends or donors, and they disclose any personal benefit they may receive from the sale. And if they can adequately educate us on why moving the prison is necessary to enact the recommended reforms, then maybe, just maybe, it will make sense to move the prison.
But until the legislature addresses these concerns, Utahns are right to be wary of their motives and to demand answers.