Officials break ground at site of new prison, which is set for completion in 2020

(Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Governor Gary Herbert, center, turns dirt along with other dignitaries at the site of the new prison, Wednesday, August 16, 2017. Rep. Brad Wilson, R-Layton, is left of the Governor, and Utah Dept. of Corrections Executive Director Rollin Cook is to the right.

It’s one of the few times shoveling will be allowed at the new prison.

There also were a couple of jokes, including one from Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, about northwest Salt Lake City getting a new planned, gated community.

But most of the talk Wednesday was serious. The people who participated in the groundbreaking for the new state prison focused on how it can better help inmates rehabilitate and return to society.

“This is about more than building a building,” Herbert said. “This is about restoring lives.”

The new prison will have up to 4,000 beds and cost an estimated $650 million. Construction is expected to be finished in the winter of 2020. Inmates from the current prison in Draper will move about a year later.

The groundbreaking also gave the public a preview of what inmates will experience there. The new site has views of the Wasatch, Oquirrh and Stansbury mountains. The site is on the edge of a nature preserve and pronghorns grazed a few hundred yards north of the ceremony.

The new prison also is on the flight path for the Salt Lake City International Airport. Noises from jets sometimes challenged speakers at the microphone Wednesday.

Before he picked up one of the golden shovels, Utah Department of Corrections Director Rollin Cook told the 100 or so politicians and dignitaries how about 95 percent of the state’s prison inmates will be released one day.

“The fundamental question is, ‘How can we make sure they are better when they return?’ ” Cook said.

The new prison will have a greater emphasis on treatment and job training for those inmates, Cook explained.

While Herbert, Cook and other dignitaries turned the dirt, Mike McAinsh described his hopes for the prison. He is the secretary of the Utah Prisoner Advocate Network and has attended meetings of a stakeholder committee for the new prison.

McAinsh said the new prison will be more like a college campus, with classrooms and open spaces inside the buildings. He hopes the inmates will have more opportunities to express themselves through art and will be able to participate in wildlife and wetland rehabilitation programs.

“It won’t [have] those towers that remind them everyday they are in prison,” McAinsh said.