Who is the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition?

Our mission is to reverse the trend of mass incarceration in Colorado. We are a coalition of nearly 7,000 individual members and over 100 faith and community organizations who have united to stop perpetual prison expansion in Colorado through policy and sentence reform.

Our chief areas of interest include drug policy reform, women in prison, racial injustice, the impact of incarceration on children and families, the problems associated with re-entry and stopping the practice of using private prisons in our state.

If you would like to be involved please go to our website and become a member.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Crammed Jails and Prisons will "Pop"

Ari Zavaras, the new man in charge of Colorado's Department of Corrections, has inherited a prison system that is like a balloon ready to pop.

The problem, corrections officials say, is Colorado has doubled its prison population in the past 10 years, slashed programs designed to rehabilitate inmates and slowed construction of new prisons.

Corrections officers say they feel a sense of unease because fewer people patrol the state's prisons. About 200 corrections- officer positions were eliminated during a statewide fiscal crisis that began in 2001, and only 62 of those have been restored. That leaves officers with less time to glean the kind of intelligence from inmates that can avert violent uprisings.

"I would contend that every prison in the state has the potential for a riot situation - every one of them," said state Rep. Buffie McFadyen, D-Pueblo West, whose district includes many southern Colorado prisons....

The bad news: There's not enough room. The state is trying to manage its prisons by double-bunking prisoners and sending some offenders out of state. Over the next five years, though, the Department of Corrections says it needs $806 million for prison construction projects alone. By 2011, the department projects that 29,000 people will be behind bars.

Zavaras said his first priority is to keep the public safe. Secondly, he believes the way to get more bang for the taxpayers' buck is to change the behavior of prisoners, most of whom are scheduled to return, eventually, to the streets.

"We are going to have a heavy focus and a heavy emphasis on what we can do to slow down growth in the department," said Zavaras, who served as director of the Department of Corrections from 1993 to 1998 and as Denver's police chief before then.

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