Why move the prison?

Conversations around the relocation of the Utah State Prison have been heating up lately in local media coverage and in community conversations. For those of you just jumping in to the dialogue, you may not realize that the relocation has been on the table for years.

Land is valuable in Draper and can be developed

One compelling argument for relocating the Utah State Prison lies in the potential economic impact from developing the land where the prison currently sits. An original estimate placed the economic benefit to the state at $1.8 billion and more recent estimates range from $557 million to $2.4 billion to the state, depending on how the land is developed. The recent estimates do not show what it would cost to buy the land for each site.

Possible growth in prison population may require more space

A 2014 study by state consultants predicted that more space may be needed to house inmates if the prison population continues to expand. Since that time, the legislature passed reforms they hope will reduce the prison population. The bill containing the reforms — H.B. 348 — dropped some of Utah's drug offense penalties from felonies to misdemeanors and included measures to enhance treatment for offenders suffering from mental illness or substance abuse problems.

Prisoners are also being housed at the prison in Gunnison and in county jails throughout the state. Under current plans, the prison in Gunnison will expand and more money will go toward paying for contracted jail space.

The current prison is aging

Some buildings on site date back to the 1950s. A study by MGT of America shows the decades-old prison is in need of updates to its security and infrastructure. In February, the prison commission said a new prison would also allow for more programs for offenders, possibly resulting in lower levels of recidivism.

We've included a list below of ages and names of buildings at the prison. The information was provided by the Utah Department of Corrections:

  • Wasatch: 1951
  • Special Services Dorm: 1959
  • Oquirrh 5: 1967
  • Uinta 5: 1968
  • Timpanogos: 1983
  • Olympus: 1985
  • Oquirrh 1-4: 1987
  • Uinta 1-3: 1987
  • Promontory: 1995
  • Uinta 2-4: 1998
  • Lone Peak: 2000
  • Timeline


    The first prisoners entered the Utah State Prison and stayed in the Wasatch housing units.


    Wikstrom study: Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. commissioned a study to investigate relocation possibilities and the cost of moving the prison. The state would lose money if the Draper prison moved and the land was developed, according to the study. At this point, the prison would stay in Draper.


    Wikstrom study: This was an update to the 2005 study, and looked at the possibility of moving the prison to State Institutional and Trust Lands Administration lands, as well as in Juab and Box Elder counties.


    Al Mansell, a former state Senate president and real estate broker, joined Salt Lake Chamber lobbyist Robin Riggs and Michael Sibbett, formerly a chairman of the Utah Board of Pardons, in making a quiet push for quick action on the move in 2010.


    Mansell, Riggs and Sibbett pushed again. Utah lawmakers created the Prison Relocation and Development Authority, or PRADA, made up of a group of lawmakers and stakeholders who would ask for and review proposals for relocating the Draper prison. By 2012, the group had not begun requesting proposals for relocation.


    PRADA was revised to focus on reviewing proposals for relocation and developing the land at the Point of the Mountain. New members were appointed, including Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams.

    This same year, prison officials said the recommended life cycle of the building was 60 years, a cycle that had come and gone. Buildings on average at the prison were more than 30 years old.


    The 2014 Legislature voted to relocate the prison and created a commission to help recommend a site.


    Four sites were ultimately chosen as possible homes for the new prison: One site in Tooele County in Grantsville, next to the Wal-Mart distribution center; one in Salt Lake County off of 7200 West near the Salt Lake International Airport; two sites in Utah County: The Cedar Valley site near state route 73 in Fairfield and a site near the south end of Eagle Mountain.

    Members of the Utah Legislature voted to move the prison to Salt Lake City, near the Salt Lake International Airport.

    Proposed locations

    Four official sites were ultimately considered by the commission, in addition to the possibility of rebuilding the prison in Draper.

    Each proposed site was significantly opposed by the community members and leaders who live there, which prompted Gov. Herbert and others to look at the possibility of rebuilding in Draper.

    We've included a map to help you get an idea of the locations of the proposed sites, with nearby schools and courthouses identified. Zoom in to see housing and businesses near the proposed sites.

    What's the latest?

    Herbert signed a resolution Thursday, August 20, to move the prison to Salt Lake.

    "I think it will have minimal impact negatively to the city of Salt Lake City," the governor said, calling the site "the best location, not the perfect location, but the best to give us, I think, the most effective return on taxpayers' dollars."

    Lawmakers voted Wednesday, August 19, to relocate the Utah State Prison from Draper to a site west of Salt Lake City International Airport.

    A concurrent resolution supporting the move, HCR101, was approved 62-12 in the House and 21-7 in the Senate after more than two hours of debate in a special legislative session. The new 4,000-bed prison is expected to cost $550 million.

    Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker and other city leaders are still looking into ways that they can stop the prison from coming to the city, including filing a lawsuit or a launching a referendum.

    "This decision (to move the prison to Salt Lake) demonstrates a disregard for the residents of Salt Lake City," Becker said said in a joint statement with the City Council.

    The mayor and city council may be limited in their fight because lawmakers decided that resolution cannot be subject to a referendum, and the resolution passed with the support of more than two-thirds of both the Senate and House. In addition to this, one lawmaker talked about the possibility of annexing the land where the proposed site lies into Magna. The state is also maintaining the purchase agreements for the three other sites in consideration, just in case.

    At this point, the purchase of the 500 acres of land, expected to cost $30 million, will still need to be finalized and the new prison needs to be designed.

    This decision came a little more than a week after the Prison Relocation Commission recommended the prison move to the Salt Lake site.

    Members of the commission learned that the cost to buy land in Salt Lake City would be $30 million; Grantsville $20 million; Eagle Mountain, $10 million and Fairfield, $5 million.

    Wetlands in the area of the Salt Lake City site would make it the most costly of the four sites to develop, as opposed to Eagle Mountain, which would be the least expensive and easiest to develop, according to a recent technical analysis by the state's consultants. Long-term costs of running the Salt Lake site, however, are lower: $577 million for capital and operating costs in Salt Lake City, versus $825 million for Eagle Mountain, according to a chart shown during the meeting that preceded the vote.

    Members of the commission also discussed the $97 million to $132 million cost of preparing the soil on the Salt Lake site, which is spongy and will need to have heavy fill material piled on to squeeze it dry over 18 months.

    Still, the low overall long-term operating costs of the Salt Lake site and the potential economic development that would result from a new prison factored into commission members' decision to move the prison to Salt Lake.

    The commission announced Tuesday, August 4, that they would be ready to submit a recommendation for where the prison should be built by Aug. 11. Three weeks earlier, members of the commission had extended their deadline for choosing a site from Aug. 1 to Oct. 1. Negotiations with owners of the proposed sites "(came) together quickly," according to Sen. Jerry Stevenson, co-chairman of the Legislature's Prison Relocation Commission.

    Gov. Gary Herbert toured the Draper facility in late-July so he could personally learn about the benefits and drawbacks of rebuilding the prison in Draper, rather than relocating. While there, he saw undeveloped land nearby as well as an aging infrastructure inside the prison. Corrections staff told the governor of their concerns about rebuilding on site, which seemed to outweigh any benefits. Staff worried about potential security risks from having a construction site on the same land as where prisoners live and about the possibility of losing out on funding for a new prison if the Draper land wasn't developed.

    In July, the Prison Relocation Commission's consultants deemed the problems in developing the Draper site to be "insurmountable." Despite this, Herbert was not ready to rule out Draper as an option by the end of his visit.

    In mid-July, Utah's Supreme Court dismissed an attempt to create a referendum to keep the prison in Draper. Rep. Fred Cox, R-West Valley City, asked the court to let the group, Keep It In Draper, apply to circulate a referendum that would repeal a law regarding the prison relocation, even though they missed the March 17 filing deadline.

    Since Cox was not a sponsor of the referendum, the court said he did not have standing to contest the situation and dismissed his petition for an extraordinary writ.

    Members of Keep It In Draper, who are sponsors of the referendum, filed their own petition in late-July in hopes that the Supreme Court would allow them to circulate the referendum, despite missing the filing deadline.

    The Utah Legislature's Prison Relocation Commission recently reviewed an analysis of four proposed sites for prison relocation, including projected costs for developing the sites. At the time, projected costs did not include the price tags for buying the land the prison would sit on.

    The commission also reviewed a report that looked into replacing the prison in Draper. The report found that construction of the site in Draper in phases would result in security risks from having additional tools and people at the prison and in higher costs from having to employ more staff during construction. MGT also concluded that developing the site in Draper would result in unique economic benefits.

    A new report created by the Legislative Fiscal Analyst's office showed that developing the land in Draper where the prison now sits could bring in anywhere from $557 million to $2.7 billion, depending on what is built on the site. The low and high estimates are significantly different from the $1.8 billion economic impact originally estimated in a January 2014 study by MGT of America, a Texas-based state consultant.


    It seems that not many people want the prison in their community. During a series of open houses and a hearing where members of the public were allowed to voice their opinions on relocation, many residents said they were opposed to seeing the prison come to their community. Some cited safety concerns, others said the prison should stay close to where most crimes occur, some wanted to keep their remote communities remote and others argued that there is plenty of land to rebuild in Draper.

    The mayors of Fairfield, Eagle Mountain, Salt Lake City and Grantsville all said they were against having the prison move to their respective cities. Earlier in July, mayors of cities where sites are proposed and some neighboring mayors sent a letter to the commission asking that the prison stay in Draper.

    Draper Mayor Troy Walker said his community has done its time, having hosted the prison for more than 60 years, and it's now another community's turn.

    Considerations for the prison site

    The commission identified several factors that would play into whether or not a site would be selected as the home for a new prison, including:

    • What is the distance between the prison and where employees, volunteers and visitors live?
    • How far is it between the proposed site and courthouses and contracted medical services?
    • What are the possible environmental impacts?
    • What, if any, historic and cultural sites will be disrupted?
    • What will it cost to prepare and develop the land?
    • Are the land owners cooperative?
    • Will any state infrastructure investment create economic development around the site?

    Where volunteers and employees live

    Volunteers and employees are essential to the prison's day-to-day operations. Because of this, it would be beneficial for any potential prison to be in close proximity to volunteers and employees. The two graphics below illustrate the where current volunteers and employees live.