SALT LAKE CITY — A short list of possible locations for a new state prison grew Friday when a state commission working on the project decided to look at two more spots in northern Utah.
The additional locations in Utah County and Tooele County bring the total number of possible sites to five.
Utah's Prison Relocation Commission has looked at more than 40 sites since last summer in order to replace the aging 700-acre Utah State Prison in the Salt Lake City suburb of Draper.
Proponents of the move have said the prison, built in 1951, occupies valuable real estate as development booms around it. They also argue the prison needs to be modernized to fit current needs and standards.
For example, instead of long, narrow hallways with stacks of cells where prisoners are in relative isolation, modern prison buildings include cells with clear security glass doors clustered around common areas with tables, according to consultants hired by the prison commission. Instead of tall floodlights and guard towers, modern prison exteriors blend better with their environments with low, shaded lights and the use of sensing technology to detect movement along perimeters.
Rollin Cook, the executive director of the Utah Department of Corrections, told reporters Friday afternoon that by starting from scratch at a new location, the state is more likely to get a more efficient, state-of-the-art prison than if the prison is rebuilt where it sits.
Consultants hired by the prison commission will spend the next few months working on a detailed study of all potential five sites to determine how much it would cost and how long it would take to build at each site.
Since late last year, the commission's members have studied three spots in Tooele, Salt Lake and Utah counties. But they have received resistance from local officials and residents, who argue a nearby prison would hurt economic development and home prices.
The two sites added Friday are more than five times larger than the 500-acres state officials say they need. With that kind of space, it's possible to build a relatively isolated prison that sits back from the road, consultant Robert Nardi said Friday.
The new location in Utah County is 2,700 acres along State Route 73. It's west of Eagle Mountain, north of Fairfield and south of Cedar Fort. In Tooele County, the new spot officials are considering is more than 4,200 acres that sit west and north of the city of Grantsville.
Commission members on Friday also approved a report recommending that lawmakers and Gov. Gary Herbert allow the commission to pick the final location for a new prison. The commission's original task was simply to recommend a site or two to the Legislature, which would make the final decision.
Kaysville Republican Rep. Brad Wilson, a chair of the prison commission, is working on a bill to allow the change. Wilson said this week that if the commission makes the decision, lawmakers won't have to deal with it during a special session this summer.
Herbert said this week that he will likely veto the bill. Speaking at his monthly televised news conference Thursday, the Republican governor said the full Legislature and his office should not be cut out of the process.
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