SALT LAKE CITY — Rollin Cook, a retired chief deputy from the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office, was unanimously recommended Friday for state Senate confirmation next week as Utah's new executive director of the Department of Corrections.
Much of the questioning of Cook by members of the Senate Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Confirmation Committee centered around the possible relocation of the Utah State Prison in Draper.
"I see a lot of panic," Cook told the committee about the reaction to moving the facility from Point of the Mountain, where it has stood for more than five decades. He said task forces should be formed to address the concerns once a decision is made.
"A lot of people I know are worried about visiting," Cook said, suggesting video-conferencing stations could be set up throughout the state to allow communication with inmates. Other solutions could come from talking with those affected, he said.
Cook said he didn't have "any preconceived notion" about whether the prison should be shuttered and a new facility built elsewhere in the state but called much of the Draper facility "very much antiquated," comparing the oldest buildings there to Alcatraz.
The 2013 Legislature passed a bill taking the first steps toward relocating the prison.
The committee's chairman, Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Eagle Mountain, cited Cook's experience as a trainer through the National Institute of Corrections on subjects including opening new institutions.
"This is going to be very likely dumped on the new director's lap, a huge undertaking," Madsen said, describing Cook's consulting work in numerous states as having "spoke peace to my heart."
The state's Prison Relocation and Development Authority has recommended moving the facility, despite a price tag estimated as high as $600 million, citing lower operating costs as well as economic development opportunities on the 700-acre site.
The 2013 Legislature passed a bill taking the first steps toward relocating the prison. Gov. Gary Herbert is expected to name new members to the authority shortly so work can get underway.
Herbert selected Cook to replace acting corrections director Mike Haddon, also a finalist for the job, calling Cook someone who "brings both the outsider's fresh perspective and insider's firm commitment to optimize taxpayer dollars."
The appointment will be up for final confirmation by the Senate on Wednesday.