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The Legislature approved a slate of criminal-justice reforms meant to slow the growth in the inmate population, but it punted a decision on where to build a new prison.
Both political parties embraced HB348, which greatly enhances the treatment options for people who are addicted to drugs or who are mentally ill.
It also drops drug possession from a felony to a misdemeanor and reduces the punishment for some traffic offenses as well.
Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns, the bill's sponsor, called the proposal an "epic shift" in the way the state charges, sentences and supervises offenders. It institutes a new screening survey to identify offenders who have an addiction or a mental illness and it directs them into treatment while they are incarcerated and when they are released.
Hutchings' bill, sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, also would beef up the budget of Adult Probation and Parole and create a system where parole officers can immediately reward and punish offenders who violate the terms of their supervision.
The goal is to reduce the state's recidivism rate. As it stands, two-thirds of the people booked into prison last year were there because they violated their probation and parole and most of them had a drug problem.
The legislation had the support of the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah and liberal advocacy groups, as well as the Department of Corrections and conservative lawmakers, a number of whom had volunteered at the prison or in jails as part of their service through The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
It is Utah's first major step away from the "tough-on-crime" era and if Gov. Gary Herbert signs the bill as expected, the state would join a list of 29 others that have already adopted similar reforms in what is called the "justice reinvestment" movement.
But Hutchings said the bill wouldn't have gotten off the ground if it weren't tied to moving the prison out of Draper.
The Legislature took no definitive action on moving the prison in this session, though a bill that passed late Thursday sets an Aug. 1 deadline for the state Prison Relocation Commission to recommend a new site.
The locations under consideration include two in northern Utah County with one in southern Eagle Mountain and one in nearby Fairfield; two in Tooele County, one near the Miller Motorsports Park and another next to the Wal-Mart Distribution Center in Grantsville; and one west of the Salt Lake International Airport.
The Legislature would then return for a special session to give final approval to the prison move. Herbert would have a chance to approve or veto the decision, which has angered mayors, city councils and community groups in each of the communities under consideration. Herbert said the prison will move if the state can find an acceptable site. He put the odds at 50 percent.
Lawmakers added a sweetener for the city selected, authorizing it to impose a .5 percent sales tax.
If a site is selected, the Legislature has set aside funding to buying the land and start the architectural plans.
Wilson expects it to take three years for the construction of a new prison, which would cost at least $500 million, most of which would be borrowed. Lawmakers allocated $80 million for the project. That new prison would have 4,000 beds, making it the same size as the prison now in Draper. That new prison would have 4,000 beds, making it the same size as the prison now in Draper. The Legislature took no action on what would happen with the land in Draper if the prison is relocated. Officials have often talked about building a high-tech business park in the area.