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A rendering showing potential Draper prison site redevelopment. Courtesy image
Editorial: Make sure taxpayers get the best deal for prison plan

Demand reform with prison move

First Published Feb 21 2014 05:54 pm • Last Updated Feb 21 2014 05:54 pm

The Republican majority of the Utah House — including many members who make all or part of their living by buying, selling and developing real estate — really wants to move the state prison off all that yummy land in Draper and turn it over to the private sector. Really, really.

The good news is that they want the prison site so badly that they are at least promising to give the people of Utah something very valuable indeed in return. And that is not just a shiny new prison, which will probably sit somewhere to the west of the Wasatch Front, but what sounds like a comprehensive reform of the whole Utah correctional system.

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That’s the best deal the taxpayers are likely to get. But we should make sure to hold our brokers, er, representatives accountable for following through on their offer.

The House Republican caucus gave its blessing Thursday to House Joint Resolution 19. That’s the measure that ratifies the conclusions of the state’s Prison Relocation and Development Authority — the initials of which are also the brand name of a very expensive purse — in finding that the prison that sits on some 700 acres near the Point of the Mountain should find a new location and the current site be turned over to the market forces that have already transformed the area into a sea of bricks, glass and concrete.

The vision, of course, is that the land will go back on the local tax rolls and create a boon in economic activity.

The dark side of that view, of course, is that we might think we are just moving a storage yard. But we’re moving a prison, with custody of a few thousand souls who must not simply be housed and fed, but treated, educated and prepared for a re-entry into society with, hopefully, the skills they will need to survive inside the law.

That requires more than even the newest bricks, beds and security cameras. It requires programs, experts, volunteers, medical care and a minimum of separation from families and other support systems that are always crucial in helping inmates make it on the outside.

The good news is that HJR19 makes careful and explicit note of all that. It sets out that the planning for a new prison include consideration of all those factors, including that every effort should be made to reduce, or at least slow the growth, of the number of people Utah incarcerates.

That, plus a demand that the sale and development process for both the new prison and the old site be as transparent as possible, could still make this a good idea.

But the people of Utah need to stand guard to make sure that happens.


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