Inside Utah State Prison: Should it stay or should it go?

Most facilities have years of use left

Published: Sunday, Feb. 24 2013 5:45 p.m. MST

In the rear of the Wasatch structure is the warehouse area where license plates and road signs are made. As Steve Turley, the prison director of Institutional Operations, walks through the facility, the inmates who are allowed to work around the heavy machinery all greet him with a smile and shake hands.

One inmate, who has been incarcerated nearly continuously at the Draper facility since 1955, was asked what has changed in Wasatch since he first arrived at the prison.

"Not much," he replied.

Some cracks, apparently caused by water damage, are visible on the exterior of the structure. Turley said workers at the Wasatch housing units deal with ongoing water and maintenance issues continuously.

The new

The Utah State Prison's newest building, a facility where audio books are made for the blind, was completed in 2011.

In contrast to the original Wasatch facility, the four Oquirrh housing blocks were built in 1987. They have a recommended 34 years remaining in their life cycles.

Inside the Oquirrh facilities, the pods are laid out in a modern, more open design so corrections officers have a "straight on" view of all the inmates at once, Turley explained. In addition, all of the cells can be opened and closed with the push of a button.

"Each time a prison is built, you get the most modern facility," he said.

Both the Wasatch and Oquirrh housing blocks are for medium security inmates.

The Timpanogos housing block is for women inmates. It was built in 1983 and has a recommended 30-year life cycle remaining on each of its four housing units.

The Uinta housing units are for maximum security inmates. Two of the Uinta housing blocks were built in 1987 and two were updated in 1998. They have a recommended 34 to 45 years left in their life cycles. Uinta I, where death row inmates are held, has unofficially been referred to as "Supermax." It still has 34 years remaining in its recommended life cycle.

Uinta 5 used to house death row. Today, the original cells that once held some of Utah's most notorious death row inmates — including Gary Gilmore, Arthur Gary Bishop, Pierre Dale Selby and William Andrews — are today filled with boxes and used as extra storage space and supply rooms. The rest of Uinta 5, built in 1968, is the first stop for new inmates where they are "checked in" and receive orientation.

Who wants it?

Two areas have been mentioned on Utah's Capitol Hill as likely sites for a new prison: Tooele County and Utah County. Box Elder and Juab counties have also been discussed.

Tooele County commissioners met with Utah's lieutenant governor on Thursday to say they are interested in listening to any proposals, should the state decide to move the prison.

"We want to be cautionary, check things out. We're not saying, 'Yeah, we we want it.' We're just interested in looking at the possibility," said Tooele County Commissioner Jerry Hurst. "Let's see what you're going to offer."

The Tooele County Commission passed a resolution Tuesday declaring its interest in the possibility of having the prison. Hurst said the mayors and council members of Tooele City and Grantsville are also on board with the idea.

A couple of areas are being looked at in Tooele County, the most promising being just west of Grantsville off I-80 in an area known as Tempe. The county is interested in the jobs the prison would bring to the area and the economic impact it would have, Hurst said.

"We have a work force, we have infrastructure, we have everything needed to facilitate the prison out there — plenty of open space and room," added Tooele County Commission Chairman Bruce Clegg. "(That area) won't be incumbered by residents for a long time to come."

Draper officials have not expressed any desire to keep the prison where it is. During a June meeting of the Prison Relocation Authority Committee, city officials expressed support for moving the prison.

"Jobs bring people and people bring their wallets," Draper Mayor Darrell Smith said. Another big plus for the city would be the ability to collect taxes on what is now state-owned land.

E-mail: preavy@desnews.com

Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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