Lives Changed For The BetterAug 06, 2015 09:37AM ● By Bryan Scott
Serving Time Cafe
By Erin Dixon
Draper - This year the political topic of conversation has been where a new state prison should be built to replace the facility currently in Draper. The conversation has been far from calm, as communities from Saratoga Springs to Tooele have shouted their dismay at the possibility of the new prison in their own backyards. Most of the outcry has come because residents feel they don’t have any say in the move, and that the decision is being made behind their backs. There have been a few very rowdy public meetings. On the flip side, many Draper citizens protested to keep the prison where it is.
If the prison is moved there may be a long-term gain, but there also may be great short-term difficulties.
The prison inmates thrive on the work of the nearly 1,300 volunteers, 141 of whom live in Draper. These volunteers come to the prison on a weekly or even daily basis. In comparison, there are only 1,132 employees. This is the highest number of volunteers per capita at a state prison in the nation.
Brooke Adams, prison public information officer, said, “Volunteers are essential to our operations and help inmates return to the community as law-abiding residents of Utah. We are very appreciative of the terrific service they provide in helping inmates stay productively engaged while serving their sentences and in changing their lives. It is fair to say they are a critical component of our operations.”
If a volunteer is unable to come to the prison, the inmates simply have to return to their dormitories. Many of the local volunteers say point-blank that if the prison moves, they are not willing or able to make a long drive. Lisa Clayton of Draper has been volunteering at the women’s prison for several years in their crochet program. She said, “If the prison moved further out I think it would be very hard to get the same numbers to support these wonderful programs. The prison was here in Draper when we all moved here. It was a factor when we were deciding whether or not to live here. I understand the apprehension these other communities feel at the prospect of it going to their areas. The inmates are impacted by our programs. Their lives change for the better with the opportunities and love shown them through these programs.” Another volunteer, Mrs. Price, said, “I don’t want the prison moved. I can be over there and back in 15 minutes. [If it’s moved] I’m not going.”
Another community piece of the prison is The Serving Time Cafe. It is owned and operated by the Utah Correctional Industries, but its service is open daily to the general public. Lunch rush lines often run out the door. Business and social groups regularly visit the cafe as a matter of tradition. Carolyn Price, manager of the cafe, doesn’t know what would happen if the prison moved. It would indeed be a loss, inside and out, if it were unable to reopen in a new location. 85 percent of their business is from the community (the rest is the on-duty officers), and if the prison is far from any public to serve, they wouldn’t be able to function. Female inmates are employed there as well and gain experience for after their release. Price said that, “Working with the public is totally different for the inmates. It helps with their self-esteem, and builds good work habits.”
The public consensus seems to be that the prison should not be moved from Draper to save tax dollar spending, but the legislature and Prison Relocation Commission have decided otherwise. Three public hearings were held with the Prison Relocation Commission during the spring where there was a lot of clamor for the prison to remain in Draper, but the decision seems to remain unchanged. Several authorities have said that a move will be the most beneficial to the state long-term, and more than just financially.
E.J. “Jake” Garn, a former U.S. senator from Utah and former Salt Lake City mayor, published an article in the Salt Lake Tribune June 20, 2015 saying, “Much has changed since the state prison was built in the early 1950s. The prison in Draper is outdated and in major need of improvements and upgrades. As a result, programs to help inmates return back into society have suffered due to lack of space and funding.” Furthermore, Governor Gary Herbert said in the Salt Lake Tribune’s website, “Why do we need a new prison? Well, the one we currently have is obsolete. It doesn’t function very well. The economic benefit is just more gravy on the potential for moving the prison.”
In his article, Garn gives some statistics and argues that a relocated prison will be more beneficial in the future, even if immediate consequences are difficult. “National recidivism rates remain stubbornly high, with more than four out of 10 adult offenders returning to prison within three years of their release. In Utah, the prison population grew amid recent national decline: 6 percent growth in Utah prison population over past three years. It is estimated that the relocation of the prison will provide the state $1.8 billion in annual economic output and $94.6 million of annual tax revenue for the state and local governments when the current Draper site is redeveloped. Utah should invest dollars from this redevelopment and future averted prison growth into programs proven to reduce recidivism, restore victims and cut crime. Utah has been one of the fastest growing states in the nation, with an estimated growth of more than 2.5 million new Utahns by 2050.”
In the end, however, Adams summed up the coming decision as follows: “It’s not up to us, it’s up to the lawmakers and we’re just here to carry out whatever it is they decide. Our number one priority is that we get a new facility.”
If you are interested in volunteering at the prison, please visit: corrections.utah.gov.