Board studying Utah prison move holds 1st meeting

Michelle l. Price, Associated Press
Associated Press
Board studying Utah prison move holds 1st meeting

This June 6, 2013, photo, shows the Utah State Prison, in Draper, Utah. A Utah committee tasked with studying the relocation of the Utah State Prison will hold its first meeting Wednesday, June 12, 2013 after changing its membership. Gov. Gary Herbert signed legislation in March bringing in new members to the prison relocation and development board. The measure also directs the group to review options for a new prison site or the current location in Draper. The prison sits in an area where tech companies including eBay and Microsoft have set up shop in recent years. Herbert and other lawmakers have expressed support for moving the prison in order to further develop the area as a tech corridor. The 11-member prison relocation and development authority is scheduled to meet at the Utah State Capitol on Wednesday afternoon. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A committee studying the relocation of the Utah State Prison has kicked off a months-long process to consider moving the facility out of a bustling tech corridor south of Salt Lake City.

The Utah State Prison occupies 700 acres in Draper where companies such as eBay Inc. and Microsoft Corp. have set up operations.

Supporters of relocation say the move will let the Draper site develop as a hub for software companies and other firms.

Wednesday's meeting of the prison relocation board marked the first gathering since lawmakers changed the board's membership and refined its mission.

The 11-member committee of elected officials and community leaders will recommend whether the state should move the prison, and if so, where the new site should be and how the current site should be developed.

The previous incarnation of the board conducted a similar but more general study of the issue last year.

That board took the temperature of development firms to see what kind of interest and approach there was in the project, and gathered updated data.

In December, the board recommended that the state pursue the project, which is estimated to cost as much as $600 million.

State Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, served on last year's board, and said during this year's legislative session that the overall cost of selling the land at the current location and constructing a more efficient prison that requires fewer guards will save the state money.

Together, the state could recoup about two-thirds of the relocation costs, he said.

Additionally, he said the state could see savings in the future since it will no longer need to pay maintenance at the current facility, which opened in 1951.

Before the prison moved to Draper about 60 years, ago, the state prison was located in what is now Sugar House Park. The state also operates the Central Utah Correctional Facility in Gunnison.

Leaders studying the issue have not zeroed in on a potential new site for the prison.

Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams, one member of the committee, said after the meeting Wednesday that he thinks the new site should be accessible to a populated area and near hospitals and courthouses.

McAdams said he hasn't decided yet whether it makes sense to move the prison, which lies within his county.

"We need to take whatever time is necessary to make the right decision, to see the data, and let the data drive this decision," he said.

Specifically, McAdams said he wants to see data to support the idea that the benefits of moving the prison outweigh the cost.

Another committee member, Sen. Stephen Urquhart, also said he hasn't made up his mind, but thinks if the committee opts to move the prison, the state should consider privatizing some aspects.

"I'm not saying that I think that's absolutely the way to go, but we're talking about hundreds of millions of dollars of building and then running it," the Republican from St. George said. "It makes sense to see if private enterprise might want to build it and run it at a lower cost per prisoner."

Urquhart said he would like the board to explore whether there's any money to be saved by contracting with counties to house some prisoners in local jails that have more open beds.