Utah State Prison has been around for 62 years. The facility has been housing inmates longer than my family has been in the state of Utah, but that might soon be coming to an end.
Senate Bill 72 has set a project in motion to relocate the prison and develop the land it currently occupies. The state Legislature currently has a committee in place to evaluate the economic advantages of developing the land, and although no commitments have been made, the bill is set to open the commercial floodgates.
At best, the development of the prison is forced and frivolous. The new facility is estimated to cost nearly $600 million with the land gained being valued at only $140 million. The bill’s designer, Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, has pushed the bill by selling decreased operation costs and economic stimulus as advantages to the project, yet the estimates lack extensive investigation.
The bill requires taxpayers to put their faith into the free market and hope the state government doesn’t eat the costs solely for the benefit of private prison development firms.
If the bill passes in its current form, the new prison will eventually pay for itself, and the economic benefits will be but a bonus. However, the evidence pointing to this outcome is virtually nonexistent.
Although government spending can stimulate the economy, redundancy cannot.
Utah State Prison is not an outdated facility. It is not overflowing, nor does it have a problem with holding onto its prisoners. The taxpayers would not benefit from reconstructing a public facility that is functioning as intended. The $600 million could easily be put to legitimate infrastructure, another economy-stimulating solution or to enact measures to clean up our dirty air.
The relocation itself could prove troubling, as visitors might find themselves traveling farther depending on the remoteness of the new site. All prison employees might have to begin seeking a new address or face a longer commute.
Ultimately, the public will have to question the motivations behind the bill. SB72 does not solve a problem. It is, rather, a solution in search of one.
The bill’s authors claim the bill will save state money and stimulate local business at an unspecified point in the future. The only immediate beneficiaries are the private development firms who are gifted with taxpayer dollars.
It is unsettling to think Jenkins holds the interests of the contractors higher than the public that gave him office.
Yes, the government needs to trim the fat and cut public spending where it has become inefficient. However, the government also needs to research the outcomes of proposed policies extensively to ensure public spending isn’t public spending for its own sake. The most minimal research undercuts Jenkins’ claims about his bill’s anticipated effects.
The prison is fulfilling its purpose and, at this time, should not be relocated. Renovations should be made to cut costs, and future development should not be ruled out completely. But it remains the case that, unless there is substantial evidence against frivolity, projects such as the Utah State Prison relocation should not make it past the pitch.