For the second time, a committee charged with determining if the cost to build a new state prison pencils out has concluded the answer is yes.
The net cost to relocate the prison is estimated at $102 million in a new report presented Wednesday to the Prison Relocation and Development Authority, which voted to recommend to lawmakers that they approve a plan to move the facility.
“It is time to tear down Draper and PRADA has validated that,” said Rep. Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville.
The report, he said, shows a new facility is the “right thing” for the Utah Department of Corrections and the “right thing” for taxpayers.
Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams cast the lone “no” vote. McAdams said he wanted more information upfront about how local governments would be involved in ensuring that the current site is put to the best use and what efforts will be made to reduce recidivism, the biggest factor in Utah’s growing prison population.
“I want to get comfortable with the numbers,” McAdams said, adding that Utah needs “a serious conversation about prison reform” to curb an ever-increasing need for prison beds and that hasn’t yet happened.
MGT of America, the Texas-based consultant working with PRADA, projects that by 2033 Utah’s prison population will increase 41 percent to 9,913 inmates. It said the state will need to add 3,184 beds, bringing its total incarceration capacity to 10,556 beds, to house those inmates.
Possible locations previously mentioned for a new prison include Tooele and Salt Lake counties, though PRADA Chairman Lane Summerhays declined to be more specific Wednesday.
The committee also recommends that “major” consideration for selecting a new prison site be given to the impact on employees, volunteers, inmates and their families — something brought up repeatedly during public hearings on the possible move.
PRADA will provide lawmakers with four options for building a new prison outlined in a preliminary report prepared by MGT.
The assumptions differ in timelines for bringing a new prison online. The short-track option would have a facility in place by 2018; a longer range phase-out would bringing a new prison online by 2033.
Another assumption: the addition of 960 new beds at the Central Utah Correctional Facility in Gunnison. Utah Gov. Gary Herbert has included $36 million in his proposed budget to add 180 beds at the Gunnison prison.
The MGT report proposes that additional beds be added through 2020, at a total cost of $106 million.
The committee also recommended that lawmakers give it authority to purchase property for a new prison and solicit bids to design and build the facility and to develop programming. PRADA would like to have construction and programming contractors on board and a site selected by the end of the year.
All of the options extend, and most increase, the use of county jails to house some state inmates.
“The counties will not lose any beds and it could [increase],” said Garfield County Commissioner Leland Pollack, a PRADA member. “My goal was to, number one, make sure this was not a drain on taxpayers and make sure the [existing] program with the counties remained. I felt like this is as good as the counties could expect. Now it’s our job to make our case to the Legislature.”
MGT estimated relocating the prison would cost $471 million, less than the $550 million to $600 million figure touted by the previous PRADA board.
It said that cost is offset by projected repair and maintenance expenses at the current Utah State Prison over the next two decades as well as the value of the nearly 700 acres it occupies in Draper at the Point of the Mountain. An appraiser pegged the property value at $130 million, which several board members said was a conservative estimate.
If the actual value proves higher and a new facility proves even more efficient than projected, the state could even realizes a savings, some board members said.
“At the end of the day, we could actually save money to make this move,” said Summerhays. “If you turn us loose, we’ll make it happen.”
Repair and maintenance costs at the Utah State Prison over the next 20 years are estimated at $239 million. MGT also estimated that the annual economic benefit from moving the prison would be $1.8 billion, with annual state and local taxes of $95 million.
That is in line with projections made last year by the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, which said extending a high-tech business corridor through the property would create 40,000 jobs and $20 billion in revenue for the state over 25 years.
“Every way you look at this, it makes sense to do it and do it as quickly as we can,” said Draper Mayor Troy Walker.
The focus now turns to lawmakers.
Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns and co-chair of the legislature’s Executive Offices and Criminal Justice Appropriations Subcommittee, said the PRADA recommendation is likely to get a favorable reception from his colleagues.
“I’m really, really happy with where we’ve gotten to here,” he said. “The most interesting thing [about a new prison] is having the ability to affect future capacity needs by really changing the way we deal with people in our society with criminal backgrounds.”
But some of those who kept watch over the prison-move debate urged continued vigilance.
“It seems to me that they should sort out the issues surrounding corrections reform before these get subsumed by the relocation and the real estate,” said Steve Erickson, of the Citizens Education Project. “At the end of the day, it is easy for those reforms to get pushed aside.”
Eric Rumple of the Alliance for a Better Utah, said he was pleased PRADA members acknowledged the importance of criminal justice reform, though greater reliance on county jails is a concern.
“The prison relocation must be accompanied by reforms that will reduce Utah’s prison population,” he said.