SALT LAKE CITY -- The Prison Relocation and Development Authority (PRADA) will slow down the process of looking at the potential relocation of a new prison, while considering potential changes in the prison system itself.
At a Wednesday morning meeting, PRADA board members voted unanimously to pull request for proposals (RFPs) from a state website as discussion of potential changes to the state prison system, including relocation, moves forward. Gov. Gary Herbert had not signed the RFPs and committee members voted to include more information on future RFPs, which will be used to generate potential options for a change in the prison system and facilities. The vote followed discussion by an official with the Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice on possible alternatives and changes in the system.
Top of Utah representatives on the board, Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, and Rep. Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, both expressed reluctance to take a step back in generating potential options for the Legislature to consider.
"We need to recognize we are expanding the scope of this board beyond what the Legislature asked us to do. There are some risks with that. I'm not sure how my colleagues will react to things. It's a bit of a risk," Wilson said in redefining possible RFPs for the board.
"I'll be voting yes but I have some concerns," Wilson added.
Stevenson also weighed in with a reluctant yes on the move to pull the RFPs.
One of the options board members did discuss and seems likely in the upcoming year is potential expansion of the state's prison facility in Gunnison. Lane Summerhays, chair of the PRADA board, called expansion at the facility a "no brainer" and said that would buy the committee some possible time in getting specific proposals ready for legislative review in 2015.
Another short-term issue playing into the discussion is possible expansion of county jails to house more state inmates. Both the Davis County and Weber County commissions have passed resolutions in support of looking at possibly expanding facilities in both counties, to house more state inmates.
A consultant hired by the PRADA hopes to have numbers for the group's December meeting on how the possible expansion of county facilities would impact the state system.
Stevenson thinks the counties were putting the cart before the horse, in moving so quickly on the expansion possibility. He said counties need to look at the programming they could offer prisoners and look at moves the state may take, including expansion of beds at the Gunnison facility. He suggested state lawmakers may even want to consider another rural prison facility elsewhere in the state, as part of any solution.
Wilson said the whole PRADA review process is a chance for the Utah Department of Corrections to make substantive changes to the system, beyond just building a new facility.
Stevenson expects the review process will show the state needs to relocate its existing facility. He said how, where and when are yet to be determined. He suggested the state may take the approach of building pods for the system, rather than constructing a new facility all at once.
Wednesday's meeting also included public comment on the PRADA process thus far.
Eric Rumple of the Alliance for a Better Utah praised the committee for slowing down the process and looking at prison reform and policy.
"We can't build the prison for the future, if we don't know our prison policy for the future," Rumple said.
Jean Hill, a government liaison for the Diocese of Salt Lake City, supported the move to review prison policies before expanding the system, but also emphasized any relocation plan needs to include a focus on volunteers, family and morale of the prisoners themselves.
"Our prisons are not warehouses. We're dealing with a human population," Hill said.
Steve Erickson, of the Crossroads Urban Center, cautioned board members to look at the big picture on any proposal. He pointed out privatizing prisons has proven to be a mistake for many states. "We hope this committee would steer clear of going down that path," Erickson said.