By ALI ANDERSON
As Rick Brown parked his white truck in the 12-acre lot of jagged rocks and tumbleweeds on Draper Prison grounds, his serious tone turned to sheer excitement.
“This is it,” he said, pointing across the barren stretch of land just west of the wiry prison walls. “This is where we will build it.”
Although that rocky lot at Draper Prison is empty now, it will soon be the home of a waste transfer station and material recycling facility.
Building plans and contracts for the project have not been finalized, but construction is slated to begin within 90 days.
The prison recycling program should be up and running between July and October 2000, said Brown, external operations director for Utah Corrections Industries.
UCI is a self-funded division of the Utah Department of Corrections that directs the creation and sale of inmate-produced goods.
The new facility will utilize inmate labor to sort and bail recyclable goods hauled to the site by private vendors. Bails will then be shipped by truck or rail to companies, where they will be made into new products.
Brown expressed his hope that the new facility will be more than just a dumping ground for recyclable goods. He said he sees the project as an opportunity to serve two groups of Utahns — residents and Draper prison inmates.
“It’s like a community service. We’re providing jobs for inmates, but at the same time we’re doing a service for the community,” Brown said.
Utah residents may see an upsurge of community recycling efforts because of the new prison program, said Brad Mertz, marketing manager of Browning Ferris Industries, one of Utah’s largest recycling companies.
“I think (the new facility) will be a great thing for recycling. It will make recycling in Utah County a lot more viable,” Mertz said.
Although recycling programs have been implemented throughout Utah, many residents have not joined the effort — often because of the fees involved, he said.
Provo and Orem are two examples of the negative effects recycling expenses have had on Utah’s recycling efforts. Both cities lack citywide recycling programs because their city councils are weary of burdening residents with the fees involved.
Because Salt Lake City now offers the nearest recycling facilities for Utah County residents, transportation expenses especially discourage involvement, Mertz said.
“We don’t have much of a recycling program in Orem right now. The geographic location is the problem,” said Orem City Treasurer Dean Nikels.
But that will change when the prison program is activated. The location of the Draper facility will reduce recycling fees for some Utah and Salt Lake county residents by cutting trucking expenses in half.
And while attitudes about recycling may not change drastically because of the new facility, Mertz said he thinks the prison program will spur more community recycling programs to develop in the state.
With nearly a year until the facility’s opening, Brown said he is not sure what kind of response to anticipate from vendors and residents. He said the only thing to do is wait and hope for the best.
“We can’t tell what the impact will be yet. But, we will be here available for people to utilize our facility,” Brown said.
However, there have been no negative reactions to the prison’s recycling plans. Brown said several vendors have expressed their support for the project.
The Draper recycling project will not focus on revenue or competition. Brown said the money generated by the project will be “recycled” back into operating costs and prison programs.
“It all goes back to providing jobs for inmates,” he said.
At least 20-30 Draper Prison inmates will begin work at the new facility next year. Not only will they earn money for their labor, the inmates will get work experience that will hopefully contribute to their rehabilitation, Brown said.
“Our whole mission is to send inmates back into the community with job experience and skills,” he said.
Inmates who work at the new recycling facility will receive $1 per hour, the same rate earned by inmates in other Draper Prison work programs. Director of UCI Richard Clasby said the low-cost labor of inmates is an obvious advantage to the project.
“We are fortunate to have access to an inexpensive labor pool. It would be pretty tough to do this kind of work if we had to pay a lot (for it),” Clasby said.
According to the Utah Department of Corrections Web site, www.cr.ex.state.ut.us/, 28 other small businesses provide work opportunities for inmates, both inside and outside the prison walls.
Prison work programs operate on a volunteer-basis. Of the 3,126 inmates housed at the Draper Prison, 800 are now involved in work programs, Brown said.
Only minimal-security inmates are allowed to work outside of prison property. Medium-security inmates can volunteer for work programs within prison perimeters.
Roofing jobs, construction sites, meat and milk plants, and public works projects are some off-site opportunities available to inmates. License plate plants, sign and print shops offer work experience inside.
And although inmates are paid for their labor, they are required to pay taxes on their earnings, save 10 percent and contribute money to the Crime Victims Reparation Fund.