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.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Correctional Industries - Hard Labor Behind Bars

Correctional Industries is also behind the women's prison farm project down in Pueblo. They reported 16.5 million dollars in revenue. We would like an accounting of where that money actually goes. Could the people who do the work be paid more? The highest wage paid is $2.00 a day, and it's expensive to be in prison. You have to pay regular prices for everything you purchase behind the walls. People are still being released with only $100 to get back on their feet and that amount hasn't changed since 1973.

“Mostly, I put out fires,” he said during a recent visit to DOC’s East Cañon Complex, where he has worked for more than 20 years. “I work a lot in administration.”

While he speaks humbly of his supervisory role, he speaks volumes of the success of the division within DOC he is employed: Colorado Correctional Industries — a remarkable, self-sufficient program within DOC that produces manufacturing, agricultural and service-oriented goods that are sold on the open market.

In his role as agri-business division manager of CCi, Smith oversees 6,000 acres of DOC land that is home to, among other things, wild horses, dogs, goats, fish, greenhouses, honey production, even a vineyard.

And the people who make CCi what it is: 1,500 inmates from 16 DOC facilities across the state.

“That’s what we’re trying to do,” Smith said. “Teach them a work ethic, send ’em home tired, and give them something to build on when they are out of prison.”

Prison work has come a long way since the days of license plate production. Since the division’s creation in 1977, CCi has trained inmates to do everything from raise talapia fish that are sold on the open market; milk goats that produce cheese sent to dairies across the state; harvest the grapes the Holy Cross Abbey uses for its wines; and train dogs that are adopted by families or are even sent to New York Police Department to be used in drug busts.

Inmates also train wild horses to be sold to the public, a partnership program with the Bureau of Land Management. There’s a recycling plant, a turkey farm and an area where prisoners construct the cell doors to the soon-to-be-built Colorado State Penitentiary II.

All at no cost to the taxpayer.

“We don’t get a single dollar,” Smith said. “We have to pay for staffing and everything. I’m in the same business as you are: Just trying to survive.”

CCi reported earning net revenues of $16.5 million from 2006, all moneys earned from sales of resources collected from an inmate labor pool that totals 12 percent of the total number DOC-housed offenders.

The workers are low-custody inmates who require little supervision during the work day. Some may be skeptical of the thought of convicted offenders operating almost freely in a massive, low security environment. However, this does not concern Smith.

“If there’s any problems, they’re fired,” he said.

But, Smith says firing is not something he does a lot of. This, he says, is because in large part to inmates who are grateful for the opportunity to spend most of their days outside, doing meaningful work.

A 35-year-old Colorado Springs resident, Hugh Roberts counts himself as one of those who appreciate such an opportunity. Roberts is serving time for 2005 menacing and controlled substance abuse convictions out of El Paso County.

Roberts works in CCi’s apiary operation. He scrapes honeycombs and helps process the sweet yellow liquid produced by bees. He said he had no idea that, when a judge sentenced him to prison, he would end up spending most of his time during the day collecting honey.

“I was in pure shock,” he said. “This is not what I thought I would be doing here at all.”

Roberts said he believes the work ethic he has developed at CCi will help him when he leaves prison.

“This is my first time in prison, and it’s going to be my last,” he said.

Smith reports that inmates like Roberts are much less likely to return to prison once released. Recent DOC reports indicate rates of recidivism — the percentage of released offenders who return to prison within three years — is at 50 percent. However, Smith said the numbers of inmates CCi employs who return to prison within that time frame is 25 percent.

“We are a management tool,” Smith said. “We pay more than a normal prison job, and we give these guys something to look forward to when they get out.”

Canon City Daily Record