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Salt Lake City's west side feels put upon, since it already contains three of the state's five halfway houses and a 300-bed parole-violator center. And in the next few years, the state will move the Utah State Prison there, to a site west of the airport, a decision Gov. Gary Herbert finalized Thursday.
"We disproportionately take most of the burden," Sen. Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, said while appearing on Trib Talk, The Salt Lake Tribune's weekday video chat. "This really felt like a slap in the face to our community."
Two leading House Republicans agree with her, and they are planning a legislative effort in January to build transitional housing for parolees in areas far from the capital city. One idea, pushed by Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns, is to build halfway houses in every county that holds state inmates in their jails. That's 22 of the state's 29 counties.
"This is a statewide challenge. We don't only have people arrested in Salt Lake City," said Hutchings, a member of the Prison Relocation Commission and the lead sponsor on a new law that tries to reduce the number of inmates by emphasizing drug treatment.
Rep. Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, co-chairman of the relocation commission, said it makes sense to send recently released inmates closer to where they previously lived, instead of concentrating them on Salt Lake City's west side, and in West Valley City and Ogden, the other two cities with halfway houses.
"The more proximate people are to where they are from, the easier it is for them to transition back into society," he said.
Wilson and Hutchings have seen just how much cities don't want new correctional facilities. They were pummeled with angry emails from residents in Salt Lake City and the other potential prison locations in Grantsville, Eagle Mountain and Fairfield. Hutchings expects the same when he seeks places to build as many as four new parole-violator centers and a series of halfway houses. He mentioned potential locations ranging from St. George to the Uinta Basin.
He wants to move quickly to capitalize on the momentum of his criminal-justice reform bill and the prison relocation.
Escamilla had pushed her colleagues to move the Salt Lake City parole-violator center out of the capital as part of this effort, but Hutchings and Wilson wouldn't go that far. Wilson said it would be "irresponsible" to close a center that opened in 2012, but he was open to moving halfway houses elsewhere when it is time for them to be refurbished.