This session I signed on to co-sponsor a significant piece of legislation with Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, regarding the state prison. Senate Bill 72, Prison Relocation and Development Amendments, has received quite a bit of media attention because the size and scope of the project this bill creates is very large and has many interested parties. As its title suggests, the bill deals with the relocation of the Draper prison and the re-development of the land currently occupied by the prison.
The Prison Relocation and Development Authority, of which I've been a member, has been studying the possibility of moving the prison for over a year. The state prison has been at the Draper location for the past 61 years, but moving the prison's location is not a new concept. Prior to the Draper location, the prison was located at what is now Sugar House Park and Highland High School.
You may be wondering why go to the trouble and expense of moving the prison. The answer is that the prison is an aging facility and does not meet many of our current needs. It was moved from Sugar House for much the same reason. When the prison was built in 1951, Draper was a rural community. Now the prison is surrounded by residential and commercial development with limited growth or building options.
As with any building that is 61 years old, the prison is showing its age. We estimate that a new facility could save an estimated $20 million annually in operating costs because a more efficient prison would require fewer employees and would allow us to use more advanced building and technological infrastructure. Nearly 80 percent of those who enter the state prison are released back into society. The opportunity to have a facility which can more effectively prepare these people to re-enter society is a significant reason building a new prison makes sense.
SB72 would create the Prison Land Management Authority to oversee the project and establish a process for issuing contracts to tear down and build a new prison.
The authority would evaluate bids and make a recommendation to the Legislature and governor for final approval. It is estimated that the cost of a new prison would be approximately $400 million to $550 million. No location has yet been determined; this would be left to the Prison Land Management Authority to recommend and the Legislature and governor to make a final determination based on the recommendations.
We estimate that the state could redevelop the existing prison site into a technology center that could bring a $25 billion boost to the state's economy and 30,000 to 40,000 new jobs.
The location of the current prison is at the center of economic growth in Utah and presents a tremendous opportunity for economic development.
I believe it is time for the prison to find a new location out of our urban core. The costs to remodel a landlocked 60-plus-year-old facility are too great when compared with the lesser costs to build new in a location with room to expand and the chance to re-develop very valuable land in the heart of the Salt Lake Valley as a technology center with huge economic development potential for all the surrounding counties. I do believe it is important that the relocation and redevelopment process stay as apolitical as possible and I'm working to put safeguards in the bill to ensure we get accurate, unbiased information and analysis on both new prison location options and redevelopment of the existing site.
Brad Wilson represents House District 15 in Davis County. He is writing a series of articles during the annual legislative session chronicling his experiences as a legislator.