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Committee slows prison relocation talks

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 23 2013 6:50 p.m. MDT

The Utah State Prison, Tuesday, July 9, 2013.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

Enlarge photo»

SALT LAKE CITY — The committee considering relocation of the Utah State Prison voted unanimously Wednesday to postpone requests for bids after suggestions from advisers and the public.

“We’re not saying slow down just for the sake of slowing down, nor are we saying delay this for years,” Ron Gordon, executive director of the Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice said as he addressed the committee.

"We’re saying, 'Please allow us the opportunity to work with you for the next several months to provide information to you that I think will inform your decision-making.'"

Gordon asked the committee for the opportunity to create a criminal justice system "that will benefit us for the next 50 years or more.”

Some of the concerns the commission has are the number of beds in the Gunnison facility, jail contracting, treatment resources and the current inmate population and projections, Gordon said, adding that the committee should also look at the future of probation and parole supervision.

“Relocating the prison will have some impact on the correctional system and the criminal justice system for at least (50 years) — it will," Gordon said. "We get to decide if it’s good or bad.”

Brad Sassatelli, director of MGT of America, is leading the efforts to analyze the potential move of the prison for the committee and said the process has to have a set sequence.

First, he said the current and future needs of the prison need to be identified. Until those are identified and documented, he said it is difficult to issue a request for proposal.

Sassatelli said by Jan. 31, he plans to present the findings from the first analysis on potential sites, a future population outlook, possible expansion of the Gunnison prison and general costs.

By June 1, he said, the proposal will be more detailed and accurate.

Representatives from the community also showed up to comment Wednesday. The four who spoke all commended the committee for its decision to slow down the process.

Eric Rumple, representing the Alliance for a Better Utah, said the decision to look at prison reform is a crucial aspect of the process.

"We can't build our prison for the future if we don't know our prison policy for the future," he said.

Rumple acknowledged a letter written to the committee by the alliance and said, "The committee is starting to embrace the kind of concerns that we have had," Rumple said, acknowledging a letter written to the committee by the alliance. He believes what he heard Wednesday is a step in the right direction.

Kathy Fitzgerald, representing the League of Women Voters of Utah, said her group has had representatives at every meeting so it can "decide whether we support the proposal as lobbyist for the public interest, which is what we see as our role."

She said the league is pleased with the decision to slow down.

Jean Hill, representing the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City, said a full review of the entire system is the only thing that makes sense.

"I’ve always thought that this process was a little backwards," she said. "We’re talking about building a new prison without first talking about policy that may reduce the need for some of those facilities."

Still, moving forward, Hill urged the council to focus on the needs of volunteers, family access, employee morale and keeping the prison visible and accessible.

"As a reminder that prisons are not warehouses," she said. “We want to always keep in mind the human dignity of every person, regardless of what actions have led them to be in the prison system.”

Steve Erickson represented the Crossroads Urban Center at the meeting and said he appreciated the "go-slow approach and the big picture look.”

Email: eeagar@deseretnews.com

Twitter: EmileeEagar

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