The Utah State Prison is aging, inefficient and needs more than $250 million in improvements just to maintain the status quo and deal with expected growth in inmate numbers.
Utah’s prison population grew 22 percent in the last decade and is projected to grow by 37 percent over 20 years without major criminal justice reform. With good reforms, as anticipated by legislation passed this year, inmate population growth could slow, but implementing the reforms will require entirely new prison facilities.
We need a new prison in a new location for two important reasons: 1) to prepare inmates to return to society; and 2) to take advantage of an enormous long-term economic opportunity.
Consider that nearly every prisoner now incarcerated will one day be free. If we want our streets and homes to be safe, the goal must be to rehabilitate inmates, not just warehouse them. No one wins when an offender returns to prison. Recidivism is a tragic waste of human lives and tax dollars. Unfortunately, some 67 percent of current prison admissions are parole and probation violators. Better preparing inmates for their return to the community will help reduce this number. New facilities are needed to implement Utah’s ambitious criminal justice and corrections reforms.
I still remember the prison’s castle-like design when it was located in Sugar House more than 60 years ago. After nearly 100 years in Sugar House (1853 to 1951), the move to the Point of the Mountain marked a major leap forward in correctional facility design and programming.
Likewise, today’s state-of-the-art correctional programming, philosophy, facilities, design and technology are dramatically improved from the 1950s. Once again, we need to leave the symbolic castle walls behind.
A century ago, prisons existed for the singular purpose of separating offenders from society. Today, prisons must also help change inmate behavior so they can eventually re-integrate into society. With state-of-the-art facilities, corrections professionals will be able to implement reforms and improved rehabilitation programs to reduce recidivism.
Nearly everyone agrees we must build a new prison. The difficult question is whether to build it at the current site or a new one.
The old prison in Sugar House closed due to encroaching housing and business development. The Draper prison site is now smack in the center of one of the nation’s fastest-growing regions, amid booming business and housing expansion.
The prison occupies 693 acres of prime real estate along major transportation modes like I-15, Bangerter Highway and public transportation. Dozens of high-profile businesses providing thousands of good jobs, such as eBay, 1-800 Contacts, EMC Corporation, Coca Cola and Affiliated Computer Services, are locating in the area. Just over the Point of the Mountain are companies like Adobe, IM Flash Technologies, Vivint Solar, Domo and Xactware.
Moving the prison will allow the land to be redeveloped in a thoughtful manner, using an open and transparent public process, generating billions of dollars in economic benefit and providing thousands more jobs and significant tax revenue for education and other government services. Every citizen of Utah will benefit.
We have a one-time opportunity to create a powerful economic and industry cluster of related businesses whose collective excellence and collaboration provide a sustainable competitive advantage. It is notable, too, that the location is a halfway point between the University of Utah and Brigham Young University, where young talent is getting ready to launch into the professional world.
The relocation and construction of a new prison is vital to improve our state’s criminal justice system — help inmates improve their lives and successfully return to society. The relocation will also provide a vibrant high-technology business corridor, with the economic benefits rippling across the state.
A. Scott Anderson is CEO and president of Zions Bank.