Experts suggest prison reform instead of new Utah facility

Others believe new state prison is the best way to go to control costs

By C1 Staff

SALT LAKE CITY — Two experts in Texas prison reform were part of a panel discussing how to control costs in the criminal justice system in Utah as the state seeks a new site for its state prison.

The Deseret News reports that Jerry Madden, a former Texas state representative, suggested two possible paths when a new facility was not available: either let people out early or slow the incoming.

Texas opted for the latter by shuttering three prisons and enacting reforms such as making drug possession a misdemeanor, strengthening probation and parole supervision and expanding treatment programs.

The Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice suggest similar reforms last November.

The Right on Crime public policy director, Marc Levin, agreed with Madden’s suggestions, saying that justice reinvestment must be about more than saving tax dollars.

He said Utah is on a “great trajectory” to deal with a recidivism rate of 46 percent within three years through the recommendations that will go before the 2015 Legislature that begins meeting Jan. 26.

Utah Rep. Eric Hutchings said there was momentum to look at prison reforms, but House Majority Assistant Whip-elect Brad Wilson said it was a ‘no-brainer’ to move the prison, which is expected to generate $2 billion annually in economic activity and $100 million in taxes.

The Legislature’s Prison Relocation Commission is not expected to meet again until after the Jan. 31 deadline for submitting potential sites. The current prison at Point of Mountain would cost $250 million to repair, and the cost of a new prison is between $500 and $525 million. The site of the original prison could be sold for $150 million.

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