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Editorial: Utah prison panel was right to slow the relocation stampede

Published October 24, 2013 5:32 pm

Prison panel wisely calls time out
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The state committee tasked with deciding whether, and where, to move the Utah State Prison showed considerable wisdom when it stopped to remember that, no matter what use the current prison site is eventually put to, we will still need a functioning correctional system.

If nothing else, members of the Prison Relocation and Development Authority made some progress toward reassuring taxpayers that their acronym — PRADA — is not meant to suggest an expensive purse. That the fix is not in. That the extensive acreage near Point of the Mountain is not necessarily going to become the site of the next Wasatch Front development boom, in a way that might be a big payday for developers and real estate agents at the expense of the state in general and our corrections program in particular.

What the panel specifically did Wednesday was to withdraw requests for companies to offer ideas for moving the prison and/or redeveloping the site. It did so after hearing not only from the state's Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice but also from the firm the committee itself had hired to assess the state's needs, now and into the future.

The delay, encouragingly, is backed by Gov. Gary Herbert.

The CCJJ and MGT of America both said that, before any intelligent decision could be made on whether to relocate the prison — and, if so, to where — all involved need to have a better picture of what the state's correctional system needs to look like over the coming decades. How many beds will it need? How many inmates can and should be housed instead, at considerably smaller costs, in county jails around the state? What savings might be realized with more and better-supervised parole and probation programs?

When the bill creating PRADA was passed earlier this year, there was considerable concern that the Legislature had prejudged the whole issue. That it was ignoring the value of keeping the prison close to the metropolitan core so that employees, program volunteers and inmates' families and support systems would have easy access to the facility, all to make it much more likely that the prisoners to one day be released from that prison, wherever it might be, would have a much better chance of making it as law-abiding citizens.

Any pause in the process should also be used to carefully think through the pros and cons of maybe turning the current prison site in Draper into as many houses, strip malls and big box stores as developers can squeeze into 700 acres.

This move suggests that the group is taking its mandate seriously and is not so eager to crank up the bulldozers as has been feared. And that's good news.