For everyone suffering from "Prison Relocation conversation" withdrawal (i.e. probably no one), the long wait is finally over!
Last week, the newly formed Prison Relocation Commission (which takes the place of the Prison Relocation and Development Authority - PRADA - of yesteryear) met publicly for the first time to discuss relocation of the Utah State Prison in Draper.
And if there was any doubt as to whether the Draper prison would be moving, this May 22 meeting pretty much did away with that. The explicit job of this commission is to find a suitable potential location - or locations - for the new facility.
To that end, Senator Jerry Stevenson, who along with Representative Brad Wilson co-chairs PRC, made a sincere plea that stakeholders "be productive" in helping to move the prison project forward. He emphasized the commission's commitment to inmates and their families, as well as to prison volunteers and staff. He also said that "we don't need to go back and go over things we went over already in the past three years."
The PRC commissioners came to the table ready to work, distributing a proposed timeline and proposed working groups. You can find these materials - including a VERY helpful statutorial comparison of PRADA and PRC - at the end of this blog post.
In addition to Wilson and Stevenson, the commission also includes: Representatives Greg Hughes (R), Eric Hutchings (R) and Mark Wheatley (D); Senators Evan Vickers (R) and Karen Mayne (D); and (as non-voting members) Rollin Cook, Director of the Department of Corrections, and Ron Gordon, Director of the Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice.
Naturally, the ACLU of Utah is interested in the "Reform and Programming" working group, headed up by Reps. Hutchings and Wheatley, and tasked with incorporating on-going criminal justice reform into future prison needs. And we suspect that most Utahns will be very interested in the work of the "Site Selection" working group, led by Sens. Stevenson and Vickers, which will evaulate potential sites and eventually recommend one or more to legislators.
But don't ignore the "Financing" working group, led by Reps. Wilson and Hughes. There is no question that demolishing the current prison and building an entirely new facility elsewhere will be, initially, quite costly. The ACLU of Utah is concered that it is in the area of finance that private prisons will make their most compelling argument: "Let us build your new prison. We won't even operate it; we will just lease it back to the state." The ACLU's position on outsourcing our prisons to private corporations is clear: we're opposed. It's not an economical or appropriate area in which to cede state responsibility. We want to avoid any incentives to build and fill more prison beds than we need.
The Prison Relocation Commission fully intends to make a recommendation to the 2015 Legislature as to "where, how and when" to move the prison. However, contrary to rumors and speculation, no sites have been formally proposed or even evaluated yet. There has been no decision or even official discussion as to whether there will be one or multiple new prison sites.
Keep yourself informed about this process by attending PRC's public meetings, the next three of which have already been scheduled: June 19, 8:00 a.m.; July 17, 9:00 a.m.; and August 26, 9:00 a.m. The commission has stated that working group meetings will be publicized, too. You can find notices and meeting materials here.
P.S. The state's "Master Design consultant," MGT of America, also made an extensive presentation at the meeting, to bring new commission members up to speed. You can download MGT's Powerpoint presentation below.