With a $550 million price tag for relocating the Draper prison so the land under it can be privately developed, former Occupy SLC activist Jesse Fruhwirth challenged the proposal in terms conservative lawmakers could understand. “This is a bunch of money being spent by the taxpayers up front for a bunch of promises,” Fruhwirth said. “You know what that sounds like? That sounds like an Obama stimulus plan.”
Fruhwirth, a former City Weekly reporter who is now active among the SLC Prison Divestment group, seemed baffled that lawmakers would consider such a gamble unless it was meant to benefit developers and the private-prison industry.
Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, presented Senate Bill 72 not as direct plan for redeveloping the site but for allocating $1 million for the creation of a “Prison Land Management Authority,” a 10-member group that would be able to take proposals to relocate the Draper prison, allow private-sector development on the old site and to help with prison programming, like reducing recidivism. The board would include lawmakers, representatives of the Governor’s office of Economic Development, Corrections, the construction and real estate industries and Draper city officials.
Jenkins acknowledged that estimates are hard to calculate on what the development might be since they haven’t taken proposals, but he believes the numbers do add up to a worthwhile investment.
While the new prison would cost $550 to $600 million, Jenkins believes that combined years of operation savings at the new prison of $17 to $20 million annually, plus the value of the land -- at as much as $140 million after development—and deferred maintenance costs would cover the tab.
He also argued that in the long run, the project could add billions to the local economy and tens of thousands of new jobs, though he wasn’t specific on how those estimates were formed.
Sen. Pat Jones, D-Holladay, said constituents had told her the project was simply a “windfall” for developers; Jenkins calmly disagreed.
“I don’t see a windfall there if it’s done appropriately,” Jenkins said. “There will be RFPs [Requests for Proposals], they will have to come in and give us their ideas of what should be done here, and, hopefully, in the end, the windfall will come to us as taxpayers in close to $20 billion dollars in economic value and development that will provide close to 40,000 jobs.”
More than once activist questioned Jenkins’ motivation, citing that he had accepted money from Utah’s Management Training Corporation, one of the nation’s largest private-corrections companies. Jenkins did receive a donation from the company, although it was only $500 and was in 2008. While the donation was small in terms of most campaign contributions, the company, as CW has reported in the past does, have influence among the American Legislative Exchange Council, a national nonprofit group that connects corporations with state lawmakers to promote business-friendly legislation. Numerous Utah lawmakers are ALEC members.
Nathan Goodman of the SLC Prison Divestment group also questioned financial motives of the project.
“Taxpayer money will be spent and the people who have decision-making power are the people who have a chance to profit off of it, and that is a boondoggle that must be opposed,” Goodman said.
Ultimately, the bill was not voted on at the meeting, as time had run out after the public comment, though it will be considered in committee again Thursday, Feb. 21.
Senate Bill 72 will be heard at the Legislature’s Senate Judiciary Committee again on Thursday, Feb. 21 at 8:30 a.m. at the Utah State Capitol, 350 N. State, Capitol Room 250. To read SB 72, click here. To contact Sen. Jenkins about the bill, click here. To find your legislator to contact them about this issue, click here. For more updates from the Hill, follow @EricSPeterson on Twitter.