By John C. Ensslin, Rocky Mountain News
July 26, 2007
Colorado's first new maximum security prison in 14 years will be built this year following years of legal wrangling.
But even before ground is broken on the 948-bed prison near Cañon City, a public policy debate is raging on the wisdom of spending $102.8 million more to lock up the state's worst offenders in 23-hour-a-day solitary confinement.
Colorado State Penitentiary II will be built across the street from the original Colorado State Penitentiary, which was the last maximum security prison built by Colorado when it opened its doors in August 1993.
Corrections officials have argued that building the facility is a matter of public safety because it will house the most dangerous prisoners. There is a waiting list for inmates who are now housed in less secure facilities, DOC spokeswoman Katherine Sanguinetti said.
But prison reform advocates such as Christine Donner, executive director of the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, contend that Colorado - which confines about 6 percent of its male prisoners in "administrative segregation" - is housing nearly twice as many inmates in that category as the national average. Plus, the state's inmate population has soared 400 percent between 1985 and 2005, taxing the DOC's budget of $534 million in 2005-06.
"It isn't that we have so many bad prisoners," Donner said. "It's that the people who are sent to administrative segregation never leave."
(the average is nearly three years to keep people locked up for behavior problems while they are in prison. 23 hours a day, 7 days a week. They will be released, but they will far more traumatized then when they went it. How does that possible serve public safety? And we know that may are released homeless from CSP)
Dubbed CSP 2, the new prison was approved by state lawmakers in February 2003. However, construction was stalled by litigation over the way the project was to be financed.
The prison is to be built through certificates of participation, a lease-purchase agreement.
That means the cost of the new construction will be paid by investors through a type of bonding arrangement. The state will enter into a lease, and at the end of the lease, it will own the structure.
The coalition filed a lawsuit in 2003 challenging the constitutionality of the financing. The group lost at the district level and before the Colorado Court of Appeals.
Snapshot of system
Colorado's male inmate population
• Administrative segregation 1,152, or 5.9 percent*
• Close security 3,099, or 15.8 percent
• Medium security 4,795, or 24.5 percent
• Minimum-restricted 4,962, or 25.4 percent
• Minimum security 5,394, or 27.6 percent
• Unclassified 157, or 0.8 percent
Rocky Mountain News