Public forum on Utah prison move airs ongoing concerns
A public forum to air views about a potential move of the Utah State Prison revealed a crack in support for one county's move to accept more state inmates.
Farmington City Manager David Millheim said the Prison Relocation and Development Authority needs to work more closely with towns and cities about any plan to expand county jails to take more state inmates. He also said moving the Utah State Prison, which occupies about 700 acres in Draper, from one urban location to another will just transfer problems associated with competing land uses.
Millheim said the Farmington City Council recently passed several resolutions opposing any expansion of the Davis County Jail to take more state prisoners. He said Farmington officials were surprised to learn the Davis County Commission had passed a resolution in support of taking more prisoners and reminded the county of a prior agreement barring further expansion of the jail.
"I don't think you'll see Davis County supporting that any more," Millheim said.
Millheim was one of approximately 50 people who stopped in during the day-long forum set up by Brad Sassatelli, project manager for consultant MGT of America, and Lane Summerhays, PRADA chairman. About a dozen people, including a representative of the League of Women Voters of Utah, publicly shared their views and concerns about a prison relocation.
"It is illuminating to have individuals tell us their opinions and personal thoughts on moving the prison," and related issues such as sentencing, Sassatelli said.
The League of Women Voters of Utah last week sent PRADA members a 27-page report it prepared on the prison relocation project, hailing the board's decision to take a slower approach given the many unanswered questions about how best to met Utah's future correctional needs.
Ronald Belnap, a retired Episcopal priest, said he spent 10 years ministering to county and state inmates in Southern Utah. He said the state needs to do a better job at rehabilitating criminals so they become productive residents and don't just wind up back in prison.
John Coleman, who lives in Draper, echoed that, saying he was shocked to learn that a majority of those admitted to the prison each year are returning because of parole violations. Coleman said he and his wife are service missionaries for an addiction recovery program sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and moving the prison to a more remote location would likely reduce the ranks of volunteers like them. He urged PRADA to stay focused on the "human repercussions."
While the Utah Association of Counties has suggested an expanded jail contracting program could reduce the size of any potential new prison facility, Summerhays reassured Millheim that PRADA does not intend to force any county jails to take more state inmates if they are not interested.
Sassatelli said that, as of Thursday, he is actively soliciting inquiries from communities that may be interested in hosting a new prison facility. PRADA's next meeting is set for Jan. 24, when it will hear an update from the consultant about a preliminary analysis of the project.