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Prison relocation committee finalizing bid details

Published: Monday, Sept. 16 2013 4:37 p.m. MDT

The Utah State Prison and surrounding area in Salt Lake County Friday, March 8, 2013.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The parents of an inmate at the Utah State Prison on Monday urged a committee considering relocating the decades-old facility to make sure it's not moved too far from the families of those locked up inside.

"We are a state that prides itself on the importance of family. You cannot put a price on the worth of a soul," Shauna Denos told members of the Prison Relocation and Development Authority.

Denos, with her husband, Robert, by her side, said moving the prison to a more remote area of the state would make it difficult for them and other members of their family to stay close to their son.

"They're not all monsters," she said of the state's inmates, including nearly 4,000 at the Point of the Mountain prison in Draper and nearly 1,600 at the other state facility in Gunnison, one possible relocation site.

"This is a common concern," state Department of Corrections Executive Director Rollin Cook told the committee. "It's something we think we need to emphasize with you."

Cook said it is important to keep the prison close enough to the pool of employees, as well as those involved in helping prisoners, a group that includes volunteers and the family and friends who visit.

Committee members, who also heard Monday from prison employees and a mother whose son's killer is incarcerated there, decided to finalize the details of a request for bids on a new facility.

"One of the things we learned this morning that's been reinforced is we need to eventually get to a point where we make a decision," said Rep. Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville.

Wilson offered a draft of a request for bids that called for a contract to be awarded as soon as Oct. 28, saying the question of whether to relocate the prison has been in "eternal limbo."

"This has to come to a conclusion, one way or the other," he said, warning that the committee is reaching a point "where we are trying to anticipate all the potential issues that may be involved in relocation."

Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams, who left the meeting early, said he was "generally supportive of this approach to move ahead," noting he did not see it as "a conclusive step. We would simply be gathering additional information."

But other committee members questioned the action. In the end, the decision was made to have a subcommittee review the proposed request for bids and report back at the scheduled Sept. 30 meeting.

Third District Court Judge Judith Atherton said at the end of the meeting she was hearing a lot of talk "about the need for speed." Atherton questioned having to come up with answer before the 2014 Legislature begins meeting in January.

"I understand there is a pressing need by some members of this commission to have things prepared by then," she said, warning that moving too quickly is ill-advised.

Atherton said she believes she's still at the beginning of the process.

Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, said while he'd like to have something to take to lawmakers in January, the committee may or may not be ready to make a recommendation.

"I agree wholeheartedly with what you said about rushing just to rush," he told the judge. "I agree. I don't want to be rushed into this. This is a decision that could have impacts for generations."

Urquhart also asked why any of the information submitted by bidders should be kept from the public, as permitted under the draft.

The public, he said, is "the ultimate decision-maker. I just don't feel comfortable saying we're going to make a decision based on information you can't see."

Wilson reminded the committee that it does not have the final say on whether the prison is moved and the 700-acre site is developed. That decision, he said, is up to Gov. Gary Herbert and the Legislature.

"All we do is make a recommendation," Wilson said. "I think it's important for us to be clear what the finish line looks like for us. And it's a written report."

Email: lisa@deseretnews.com

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