The Utah State Correctional Facility is cutting 400 beds and adding $150 million to costs

Apr 8, 2019, 2:56 PM
Utah State Correctional Facility...
A loader works near the entrance leading to the construction site for the new Utah State Correctional Facility at 1480 N. 8000 West in Salt Lake City on Friday, April 5, 2019. (Photo: Steve Griffin, Deseret News)
(Photo: Steve Griffin, Deseret News)

The Utah State Correctional Facility is an estimated $150 million over budget, 18 months behind schedule, and is expected to be able to house 400 fewer inmates than originally planned.

The new prison, meant to replace the Utah State Prison currently in Draper, has been under construction since 2015, when it was first sold to lawmakers with a predicted $550 million budget and a ribbon-cutting ceremony scheduled for the summer of 2020.

That estimate has steadily risen since then – first climbing to $650 million and now climbing to a new high of $800 million – and those involved say there’s still a chance the price will rise even higher.

The Utah State Correctional Facility

Utah State Correctional Facility

The construction site for the new Utah State Correctional Facility at 1480 N. 8000 West in Salt Lake City is pictured from the air on Friday, April 5, 2019.
(Photo: Steve Griffin, Deseret News)

The soaring costs of the Utah State Correctional Facility haven’t entirely caught those involved offguard. Deputy Director of the state Department of Administrative Services Marilee Richins has admitted as much, bluntly telling the Deseret News: “This was no surprise.”

Indeed, residents were warned this might happen as early as in 2016 when Rollin Cook, executive director of the state Department of Corrections, warned lawmakers that steadily escalating costs of the project might result in beds being taken away.

That same year, consultants estimated that the project would end up costing the state $860 million. Despite their warning, however, state officials assured the public that with a few cost-cutting measures they’d be able to finish the project more than $200 million below that estimate.

As it turns out, that optimism wasn’t grounded in the reality of the project. As the difficult task of building a prison large enough to house 4,000 inmates dragged on, the budget started to grow.

First, in January of 2018, the price tag rose to $698 million; now, that price tag has climbed up to a new high of $800 million.

The problem, lawmakers say, lies in the rising costs of materials and labor, which they say have been growing an unpredictable pace because of increased demand and steel tariffs.

Prison beds

Prison beds inside of Oxbow Jail in Salt Lake County. (Photo: Deseret News Archives)

The Prison Development Commission has already agreed to lower the number of beds in the building to 3,600 to try to keep costs from ballooning even further.

Even cutting beds, however, might not be enough keep the budget at $800 million. Only half of the contracts for the prison are in place, according to the Desert News, meaning that the price of this prison could still balloon further.

Either way, lawmakers say there’s no way to back out of the project now.

“We’re past the point of no return on this,” Senate Budget Chairman Jerry Stevenson says. “We’re going to have to finish it now.”

More to the story

The growing costs of the Utah State Correctional Facility are more than just a budget problem, KSL Newsradio’s Dave & Dujanovic believe. They believe it’s a public safety issue.

“We’re going to double in population growth, yet we are shrinking the number of prison beds. You tell me where these people are going to go,” Debbie Dujanovic said on the show earlier today. “I think what we’re going to see is more people serving their sentences on the street.”

If you missed the chance to hear them break this down live on the air, you can still catch everything they had to say on the Dave & Dujanovic podcast.

Dave & Dujanovic can be heard weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon on KSL Newsradio. Users can find the show on the KSL Newsradio website and app, as well as Apple Podcasts and Google Play.

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The Utah State Correctional Facility is cutting 400 beds and adding $150 million to costs