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Welcome to Fall - Part Two: So...How's That Prison Relocation Thing Going?

Okay, you're starting to wake up to the cool crisp air, and you've gotten up to speed on Utah's "Justice Reinvestment" criminal justice reform project. Hmmm...what was that other super huge major important thing you were concerned about before you checked out for the summer?

The prison relocation!GroupGather

That's right: the state's ongoing effort to move Utah's primary correctional facility from its current location in Draper to...somewhere else. Nope, you didn't miss out on that detail. There is NO SITE selected yet for the new prison. In fact, there is no official recommendation. There is also no public list of potential sites. But that doesn't mean nothing is happening!

When we last left the Prison Relocation Commission (PRC) back in July, it had split into several subgroups to discuss major decision points for the new prison project: where to site it (Site Selection Working Group); what programs and how many beds to put into it (Reform & Programming Working Group); and how to pay for it (Finance Working Group). You can refresh your memory with our run-down of the working groups here.

The full PRC met for the first time in two months on Sept. 3. Here's a good write up of that meeting in the Salt Lake Tribune. The meeting was chock-full of interesting updates, because although the full commission didn't meet publicly over the summer, the working groups were busy.

Before we proceed, NO, the Commission has not answered the questions that Utahns care about most:

  • NO, the commission has NOT selected a site for the new prison.
  • NO, the commission has NOT decided on a way to pay for the new prison.
  • NO, there is no master design plan for the new prison yet. We don't know if there will be several facilities on one large campus, or smaller facilities scattered across the Wasatch Front.

But the Commission did share some important information on Sept. 3:

First, the PRC - assisted by "master design consultant" MGT of America - is officially reviewing 25 POTENTIAL SITES. While the specific sites were not revealed, MGT reports that all the sites are located in either Utah, Salt Lake, Box Elder or Tooele County. MGT and the commission has an speedy and involved timeline for getting to site recommendations by December - you can download MGT's project overview/update at the bottom of this post.

Second, privatization of the prison appears to beoff the table - but PRIVATE FINANCING IS NOT. On Aug. 25, the Finance Working Group heard presentations from four private companies or consortiums interested in financing for the new prison - including infamous private prison corporation GEO Group. These four private entities want to pay for the construction, own the prison building, and lease it back to the state.

The meeting was closed to the public during presentations from GEO, Deseret Corrections Center, AECOM and Point West Ventures. Private financing is not as troublesome as private management of the prison, but the model is NOT problem-free. Check out the guide ("Assett Privatization Guide") at the bottom of this blog post for more info on what can go wrong. It is NOT a sure bet that private financing will save the taxpayers any money.

Third, the Commission has prioritized PROXIMITY (to staff, volunteers, families and services) as the most important criteria for evaluating these sites. At the Sept. 3 meeting, PRC members decided how much weight to give each of six major evaluation criteria: 1) proximity, 2) land and environment, 3) infrastructure, 4) community services & other, 5) development costs, and 6) community acceptance. The presentation on these criteria is available to download at the bottom of this post. PRC members weighted "community acceptance" fairly high, as well, but put off any substantive discussion of incentives that might be offered to the new site's surrounding community.

Fourth, MGT of America has finally connected directly with analysts from the Pew Public Safety Performance Project. This is the mingling of criminal justice reform and prison relocation that we've been waiting patiently for all summer. The Pew analysts will work with MGT of America to help predict how system reforms currently being considered by the Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice, will actually impact the number of prison beds Utah will need (or, more importantly, NOT need) in its new prison.

What happens next? Well, the Reform & Programming Working Group appears to be folding its work into CCJJ's criminal justice system reform effort with Pew. The Finance and Site Selection Working Groups both predict that within the next 60 to 90 days, they will be able to report to the public about how the prison will be financed, and where it MIGHT be located.

MGT of America expressed a desire to provide MULTIPLE site recommendations to PRC members by the end of the year. So it sounds like the Commission will be spending December and January deciding WHICH of those sites to pass along for legislative approval when the Legislature convenes at the end of January 2015.

The full commission will meet again in the afternoon of October 20 (Monday), but no exact time or location has been set. Check the legislative website for the Prison Relocation Commission for details as they become available!

If you have any questions or comments about this post, please contact Anna Brower, ACLU of Utah Public Policy Advocate, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..