Utah leaders unveil new state prison in Salt Lake City

gov. Spencer Cox and legislative leaders unveiled the long anticipated new state prison in Salt Lake City on Wednesday.

Details: The Utah State Correctional Facility is the largest construction project in state history, Cox said, totaling over $1 billion.

  • It will house 3,600 male and female inmates of various security levels.
  • The 1.35 million-square-foot prison, which sits on nearly 200 acres of land, is located about five miles west of the Salt Lake City International Airport.
  • The new site is designed to operate like a small city and includes natural light and outdoor views to help maintain the mental health of inmates.

Why it matters: During the prison’s ribbon-cutting ceremony, Cox said the new prison will create more jobs. The infrastructure around the prison could also lead to a new economic hub on the west side of Salt Lake City — a region that’s been historically neglected for decades.

Utah State Correctional Facility bunk beds. Photo: Kim Bojórquez/Axios

Between the lines: The controversial project, which began construction in 2016, went hundreds of millions of dollars over budget.

  • It also faced a myriad of delays due to COVID-19, a 5.7-magnitude earthquake, pandemic-induced supply shortages and increased labor and construction costs.
  • The prison, which was being built at the same time as the airport’s expansion, also increased demand for already sparse construction materials.

Background: Moving the location to Salt Lake City frees up the estimated 600 acres of desirable land in Draper to make room for housing, retail and entertainment spaces.

  • The old prison is expected to be demolished this summer.

What they’re saying: Cox said the new state facility will offer rehabilitation programs to help inmates re-enter society.

  • “Our hope is that when they return to our neighborhoods, that they will have a new sense of community, that they will have the tools necessary to rebuild their lives,” Cox said.
  • He added the state will work with private employers to make the transition easier for former inmates.

Utah state prison yard.Utah State Correctional Facility soccer fields and basketball courts. Photo: Kim Bojórquez/Axios

House Speaker Brad Wilson emphasized the prison is not a dead end for inmates, critiquing a “dead end” sign near the prison that Cox later removed himself.

  • “This facility that we’re celebrating the opening of today is going to be the absolute finest of its kind anywhere in the country,” Wilson said.
  • “It’s in our best interest and their best interest that this prison and this facility is not a dead end, but it’s actually a place where they can hit the reset and leave here better than they came in.”
  • “This is the place. This is the right place for the Utah state prison,” state Sen. Jerry Stevenson (R-Layton) said, quoting The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ pioneer Brigham Young.

What’s next: Inmates will be transferred from the old prison in Draper to the new location over the next two months.

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