Division of Archives and Records Service

Preserving Utah State Prison Records

Jim Kichas
March 2, 2022

Our State Government Team has been providing assistance to the Department of Corrections as they work to move the State Prison from its current site in Draper to the newly constructed site west of the Salt Lake International Airport in 2022. With so much history, and lots of official records, this is a massive project that we are excited to share details about!

Territorial Penitentiary

Outside view of the Utah Territorial Prison in Sugar House, 21st South and about 14th East. This photo is from an oil painting by F.M. Treseder, dated Oct. 21, 1887. The original painting is in possession of the Kaysville D.U.P. From Utah State History’s Classified Photograph Collection.

In January 1852, the Legislative Assembly of the Territory of Utah requested a $60,000 appropriation from Congress for the construction of a territorial penitentiary. In March 1853, Congress approved a $20,000 appropriation for the building and a site was chosen southeast of Salt Lake City—the present day location of Sugar House Park. Construction was finished in late 1854 and occupancy began in 1855.

Utah State Penitentiary-Sugar House, 1896. From Utah State History’s Classified Photograph Collection.

Federal legislation in 1871 moved the territorial prison under the jurisdiction of the US Marshal. From then until 1896, the penitentiary was owned and operated by the federal government. In 1896, the buildings and surrounding lands were given to the newly created State of Utah and were designated as the Utah State Prison (Laws of Utah, 1896, chapter 81).

Draper Prison Complex

Utah State Penitentiary being built in Draper, 1948. From Utah State History’s Salt Lake Tribune Negative Collection.

As Salt Lake City grew, there was pressure to move the prison out of the city. In 1937, authorization for construction of a new prison was given by the Legislature. A Draper farm site of 1,009 acres, twenty-two miles south of Salt Lake City was chosen. After a work stoppage caused by World War II shortages, construction resumed in July 1948 and in March of 1951, 575 inmates were moved to the new prison.

Utah Prison in Draper, 1951. From Utah State History’s Salt Lake Tribune Negative Collection.

Expansion of the Draper site has been continuous since that time. It is currently divided between two complexes—North Point and South Point. North Point is comprised of the Lone Peak, Timpanogos, and Olympus units. South Point is comprised of the Wasatch, Oquirrh, and Uinta units. Additionally, the Central Utah Correctional Facility in Gunnison started receiving offenders in 1990. This facility serves as satellite housing to the Draper prison complex. Corrections jointly operated the Iron County-Utah State Correctional Facility in Cedar City as well from 1987–2002. However, after 15 years of partnership with Iron County the Legislature decided to no longer fund the state side of the facility in July 2002.

Central Utah Correctional Facility in Gunnison. Photo found on Utah Department of Corrections website.

Department of Corrections

From its inception at Statehood until 1967, the government and control of the Utah State Prison was vested in the Board of Corrections. In 1967, the Division of Corrections was created within the Department of Health and Welfare. The Division became the authority of the State of Utah for corrections, and assumed many functions of the Board of Corrections. In 1985, the Division of Corrections became a Department under the supervision of an Executive Director who reports directly to the Governor. Thereafter, all prison functions came under the direction of the Department’s Division of Prison Operations (DPO). For more information, check out the Department of Corrections history page.

State Archives Role

(L-R) Joseph Rodriguez (Corrections), Matthew Anderson (Corrections), Matt Pierce (State Archives).

Matt Pierce, a Records and Information Management Specialist for the Utah State Archives and Records Service, has been working with records officers at the Department of Corrections to manage the wide variety of records that have been created by the agency over time. This includes reviewing and updating the departments retention schedule as well as identifying permanent records that are eligible for transfer to the State Archives. In addition, he and Assistant Director Jim Kichas have made site visits to the State Prison to assess and appraise the historic records that have been kept onsite at Draper (some of which date all the way back to when the State Prison stood in modern day Sugarhouse Park!).

In December 2021, the State Government Team worked with the Department of Corrections to transfer the historic records of the State Prison into the permanent care and custody of the Utah State Archives. These records are currently onsite in our building and we are working hard to get them accessioned and processed into the permanent collection. Because of the nature of these records, and the personal information they periodically contain, access may be limited. Interested researchers can contact our Reference Team to determine access. We look forward to sharing these incredibly valuable records as we process them!