Utah Counties Consider Hosting State Prison Inmates

SALT LAKE CITY — As the state of Utah searches for the next location of their state prison, counties are looking to take advantage of the economic boost that would come with hosting the new correctional facility and state inmates.

Tooele, Sanpete and Juab counties have expressed interest in housing the new state prison as well as utilizing county jails to contract state inmates.

For Tooele County, which will face the closure and job losses of the Desert Chemical Depot in July, the motivation for this interest is simply the revenue and job creation, said Jerry Hurst, county commissioner for Tooele County.

“We’re not saying we want it,” Hurst said. “We’re just saying, ‘Hey, we’re interested in checking things out and hearing what’s offered as far as the state is concerned and with the prison businesses or any kind of project like that might bring some revenue into the county.’”

Though most of the feedback from the community has been positive, Hurst said, there were locals who expressed concern. This was to be expected, he said.

“Some people say they don’t want that element in our county and we don’t want to be called dumping grounds of the state,” Hurst said.

According to Hurst, the county would be a beneficial site for the new state prison because of its proximity to Salt Lake City. Part of the Salt Lake City Metropolitan Statistical Area, Tooele County would be within distance for easy transport to Salt Lake City courts and the University of Utah Health Care center, which provides medical services to state inmates, Hurst said.

“We fit that bill,” Hurst said.

The county passed a resolution in February to express interest in housing the state prison and a committee was formed to study the feasibility of the proposal.

By housing state inmates in Sanpete County, the county and state will create a “win-win situation for both groups,” according to Jon Cos, county commissioner for Sanpete County.

“Sanpete County has been a good-faith partner with the state in housing state inmates at both our county jail and at the Gunnison prison,” Cox said. “We hope to continue and potentially expand that relationship in some form.”

Cox said in 2012, the county saved the state $19 million for holding 47 state inmates.

The state pays counties about $46.85 per inmate each day while state prisons come at a cost of $64.18 per inmate per day.

According to the Utah Department of Corrections, the state has $29 million to contract 1,600 beds in the 2014 fiscal year.