Prison move benefits few
Unless reprieved by the governor, the fate of the Utah State Prison is all but sealed. The legislation was passed without input from the taxpayers who will pay for relocation, and without regard for the thousands of lives it will affect. The unnatural speed with which it was decided should raise questions about who stands to gain and who stands to lose once it's done.
Color me skeptical, but I don't foresee a gaggle of developers, realtors, or their collective lobbyists crowding the Capitol steps offering their own millions to move the prison to (let's just say for this argument) Grantsville.
Instead, I foresee the taxpayers paying the relocation costs ($500 million or more), for which they'll receive what the gaggle shall determine is fair market value for the "blighted" and "vacated" real estate in Draper.
Shortly thereafter, the gaggle will make billions by subdividing the 700 Draper acres into lots for luxury monster houses with quaint street names like Cellblock Circle, Slammer Drive or Penn Boulevard. (No doubt some inspired soul will suggest it be a gated community and dub it "Prison Break.")
The lots will be sold at twice the fair market value to a fortunate few of the very same taxpayers who were gouged in the first place. The gains will undoubtedly go to the gaggle.
Utah taxpayers stand to lose, especially those who work at the Draper site. More than a thousand professional and dedicated employees can expect to be displaced (at best) or jobless (at worst) once their livelihood is relocated. Another 1,050 unpaid volunteers who donate their time and talents to keep the prison running will most probably find it too inconvenient (at best) or too dangerous (at worst) to risk an icy winter drive to Grantsville.
These volunteers and employees are skilled in working with society's most difficult and disenfranchised members. Losing any of them or their services will be devastating to the public good. Either the public's representatives have overlooked this loss or find it manageable.
Nobody thinks much about the losses to the 3,000 inmates living at the prison in Draper but they should. The majority of them will one day be our neighbors. Statistics prove two factors increase rehabilitation and reduce recidivism: the programming inmates receive and the support group (family and friends) motivating them.
Programing (education, counseling, treatment, worship services, transitional aide) comes directly from prison employees and volunteers. Again, moving a skilled workforce is not as easy as moving inmates. A diminished staff of trained employees and volunteers will negatively impact programing. People are not as interchangeable and mobile as the prison's fixtures and furniture. Visits from friends and family keep inmate morale high and inspire them to stay focused on their programing. Any obstacle that distances inmates from frequent and regular visits increases the risk to security and to the safety of staff and other inmates.
I ask the Legislature to drop this relocation plan in light of these repercussions. The taxpayers should demand a public accounting of the financial burdens it will be asked to bear. From those of us who work at the prison and who have unique insight to the underlying effects, input should be solicited and seriously considered.
Factors that influence rehabilitation and reduce recidivism should not be slighted or overlooked. In short, a feasibility study should be implemented and published for all to see. Then, the voters should make the final decision, by referendum if necessary.
What benefits the greater good should take precedence, for once, over the gaggle and their financial gains.
Sherelynn Gray has been teaching high school to inmates at the Utah State Prison for 10 years. She lives in Murray.
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