- Associated Press - Thursday, February 6, 2014

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - A committee of lawmakers and community leaders has voted to recommend moving the state prison from its longtime location in the southern Salt Lake City suburb of Draper to free up the real estate for development.

The committee isn’t recommending where to move the prison. Lane Summerhays, a retired insurance company executive who chairs the Prison Relocated and Development Authority, said the panel would like to keep the prison in Salt Lake or Utah County so employees, volunteers and prisoner’s families don’t have to travel far.

But the committee will not begin negotiating with landowners at prospective sites until the legislature approves the move and allocates money, Summerhays told The Associated Press. The 11-person panel of lawmakers and community leaders doesn’t have any authority, created only to provide recommendations to the legislature.

“If the legislature says, ‘Here’s your money,’ we can start executing what they’d like to have done,” Summerhays said.

An outside consulting firm estimates it will cost $471 million to relocate the prison. That’s less than the $600 million estimated by a previous prison relocation board, The Salt Lake Tribune reported (http://bit.ly/1fL1hTK).

Utah has been considering moving the prison for more than a decade.

The consulting firm said the net cost of moving the prison would be $102 million. That takes into account avoiding having to pay $239 million in estimated repair and maintenance costs at the aging prison over the next 20 years.

It also factors in what the state will get by selling what has become valuable real estate. The firm estimates the land is worth at least $130 million. The Draper prison is in the middle of a bustling tech corridor south of Salt Lake City, halfway between operation centers for eBay Inc. and Adobe Systems Inc.

Utah’s so-called Silicon Slopes corridor is located near a handful of world-class ski areas and is home to IM Flash Technologies LLC, Microsoft Corp. and Oracle Corp. Another attraction for companies is a system of commuter and light-rail lines that run for 87 miles along the heavily populated Wasatch Front.

The firm estimated that the annual economic benefit from moving the prison would be $1.8 billion, with annual state and local taxes of $95 million.

“The data is pretty overwhelming that economically and financially, it’s the right thing to do,” Summerhays told the AP.

Lawmakers will now review the recommendation and decide how to proceed. If they choose to move the prison, they’ll have to decide how fast they want to move. Timelines for building a new prison range from 2018 to 2024.

Only one member committee voted against the recommendation: Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams. He said he wants to know what efforts will be made to reduce recidivism rates at a new facility.

Gov. Gary Herbert said in his State of the State address that it’s worth discussing a prison move, but “it must be done in the larger context of reforming our criminal justice system as a whole.” He specifically mentioned reducing the rate at which prisoners return after they are released, known as recidivism.

“The prison gates through which people re-enter society must be a permanent exit, and not just a revolving door,” Herbert said in his address.

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