Eagle Mountain is one of the fastest growing cities in the state, yet is predominantly a bedroom community. It lacks jobs and capital investments to sustain its phenomenal growth. It currently has one of the top economic development projects in the state eyeing its city. The stigma of a prison could devastate that opportunity.
The prison’s current location boasts a healthy tax base generated from property and sales taxes. Consider the robust commercial and retail businesses, as well as homes near the prison. Speculation on future development of the current prison property is premature without considering the odds.
In fact, there is currently a 3 million-square-foot vacancy of commercial real estate with additional land available for development in Draper. Nearby Lehi, another economically thriving city, also competes for similar developments.
Conversely, Eagle Mountain has very little tax base and is working to increase its tax base in a timely manner in order to provide basic services to keep up with the population explosion. Residences alone cannot sustain the growth of the city.
In Utah, 40 percent of education is funded through property taxes. Eagle Mountain would also unduly suffer in funding deficits for its school district, which would be required to provide prison teachers from its meager budget. Consider the healthy $12,000 per student budget of the Canyons School District versus the $5,000 per student budget of the Alpine School District. Eagle Mountain needs more robust property and sales taxes, not a weak tax entity such as a prison that would cannibalize its city coffers.
The success of prisoners is tied to their access to the most commonly needed rehabilitation service programs for substance abuse and sex offender treatment upon their release. The average stay of a prisoner in the Utah state prison is approximately 2.5 years. Successfully assimilating the prisoners into the community is of universal concern. Retaining proximity to specialized and basic services is critical. Moving the prison far from the prisoners' visitors negates that aim and increases the likelihood of recidivism.
Statistics show a 13 percent lower recidivism rate from prisoners who have visitors. Ninety percent of the prisoners hail from Salt Lake County. Accessibility to the prison for family and friend visitation is a huge consideration. Moving the prison far away creates undue financial and emotional burdens as well as time constraints on their loved ones. Moving is costly, and for many families of prisoners, their socioeconomic status precludes moving. Alienation would disrupt the prisoners' vital support system.
Additionally, distance from needed medical and legal/court services should be contemplated. Increased prisoner transportation costs were calculated at 30 percent if the prison moves to a more remote locale. Limited transportation corridors exist near Eagle Mountain. Recently, in the proposed state budget, $94.2 million earmarked for transportation was generously reallocated to education. This noble reallocation could be undermined if the prison moves to Eagle Mountain. The transportation infrastructure would require major transportation dollars; more immediately than even the proposed gas tax could render.
Current volunteers outnumber paid employees three to one. Uprooting the prison far from its volunteer base is a costly decision financially and otherwise. To remove this volunteer base would be crippling. Human resources are invaluable. Removing the prison from this wealth and accumulation of experienced volunteers is unthinkable.
The decision to relocate is more than just a decision to move a building, it's about the people.
Heidi Balderree is a member of a grass-roots citizens council formed to oppose the relocation of the prison called No Prison in Eagle Mountain/Saratoga Springs, as well as a member of the K.I.I.D. (Keep It In Draper) research team.