Prison Relocation Commission faces another fiery information session in Tooele

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Grantsville High School auditorium was filled with screams and anger Thursday night. The Prison Relocation Committee’s informational session in Tooele County faced heated discussion, as the county is one of the last sites considered for the new prison.

Prior to the information session, an open house was held in the school’s cafeteria to help educate members of the community about the prison. Booths, videos, pamphlets and posters were set up to explain topics such as the site selection process, economic benefits, elements of a modern facility and much more. However, citizens wanted to hear from the committee members themselves.

Upon entering the question-and-answer session, audience members were asked to write down any questions they had on the provided comment cards. These questions were then read by a moderator to the panel during the session.

The meeting began with an intro from a very upset Mayor Brent K. Marshall, of Grantsville. He listed the many reasons why he believed the prison should not be relocated to his area. He targeted Mayor Bruce Blackham, of Gunnison, where the Central Utah Correctional facility is located. Blackham has spoken very publicly about the benefits that the facility has brought to his community and why he believes it is a blessing.

“Mayor Blackham can feel free to go back to Gunnison any time tonight,” Marshall said. “If the prison is truly an opportunity and a blessing for a community, feel free to take it with you when you go.”

Loud whistles, screams and applause from the audience followed.

Representative Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, co-chair of the PRC, started out by explaining the selection process, highlighting the fact that relocation of the prison is resolute.

“We are not here to discuss whether we are moving the prison or not. The PRC’s mission and directive has been to determine a place to move,” Wilson said. “The decision whether or not to move it has been made by the legislature.”

A large portion of the questions regarded concerns about water. Robert Nardi, a hired consultant, was the first to attack the issue.

“We don’t want to be in the water supply business,” Nardi said. “We want to serve the prison with water and sewer services to the betterment of the community as a whole as well as the prison.”

Nardi also discussed the fact that the property being considered has water rights. If necessary, they will create a water supply source on-site that complies with these rights. However, Nardi drove home his point that they do not want to be in the water supply business.

When Mayor Blackham was asked about the challenges the prison brought to his community in relation to water and sewage he did not deny that there have been difficulties along the way.

“You’ve got challenges. If you think it happened without any challenges, that’s just not true,” Blackham said.

However Blackham said the prison pays its share for the use of the water and sewage.

When questions about the budget and funds arose, Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, co-chair of the PRC, assured the audience that the prison relocation has already been funded and is coming out of the general budget. He also emphasized the necessity of more space.

“We have a low incarceration rate in the state of Utah, but we are getting an increase,” Stevenson said.

When asked how many prisons in the U.S. are older than 1951 (the year that the Draper prison was built), Brad Sassatelli, a consultant hired in the prison relocation study, responded, many.

“Are they efficient? No. Are they the best place to operate a facility and try to change the behavior? No. They are not designed for that, and they do not have the space for that,” Sassatelli said.

Sassatelli goes on to explain why it is crucial for the correctional system to focus on education and behavior change of inmates during incarceration.

“They don’t stay in the prison forever. … Thousands of inmates are released every year, and it’s very likely that as you’re going out to the gas station, grocery store or you’re taking your family out one evening that you will encounter an ex-offender who has been released,” Sassatelli said. “But the question is, do you want them to be a better criminal, or do you want them to be a better citizen?”

Utah Executive Director of the Utah Department of Correction Rollin Cook explained why he believes the current prison is inhumane following his recent tour through its mental health facility.

“There was a person on the floor, in a cell, without clothes on, in a facility that is not designed to help that person that is mentally ill prepare to be better,” Cook said. “If any of you have mentally ill family members like I do, you would understand that by placing someone in an environment like that, you are just making them worse.”

Cook went on to explain that simply incarcerating someone does not reduce the crime rate. Treatment is necessary to ensure a behavior change upon parole.

Cook explained that there have been no escapes from the Draper Prison in more than two decades. Stevenson added that the prison would bring a larger law enforcement population to Tooele County.

The next information session will be held on Tuesday, June 2, at Frontier Middle School in Eagle Mountain. An open house will take place from 4 to 7 p.m., followed by a question-and-answer session from 7 to 9 p.m.

A formal public hearing has been added to the calendar on Tuesday, June 16, at the Utah State Capitol.

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