Monday, October 15, 2007
It has been months since Roger Peck has seen his son.
A year ago, Peck and his wife, Millicent, twice a month were driving more than 400 miles from Grand Junction to see their son, 47-year-old Stephen Dallas Peck, at the Crowley County Correctional Facility in Olney Springs.
But when Peck and 479 other inmates were relocated in December and January to the privately owned North Fork Correctional Facility in Sayre, Okla., those visits ended.
“It’s almost impossible for us to get to Oklahoma, and I’m sure we’re more capable than a lot of people that have loved ones in prison,” Roger Peck said.
The retired couple said their contact with their son, who was sentenced in early 2004 to 18 years in prison for felony theft and methamphetamine possession, has become relegated to brief collect calls twice a month.
The Colorado Department of Correction’s decision to ship its healthiest and best behaved inmates more than 300 miles southeast of Colorado’s closest prison in Trinidad, the Pecks said, is “completely opposite” the state’s goal of promoting prisoner wellness and reducing recidivism.
“They skimmed the cream to start with. They took inmates who were in relatively good health and have no violent history and were not in there for violent crime,” Roger Peck said. “So they took the cream of the crop, so to speak, and sent them to this facility whose sole purpose in life is making money.”
Without their support, the Pecks said, they fear how well their son will cope with his methamphetamine addiction, which also landed him in prison in 1997.
Rep. Steve King, R-Grand Junction, said in an attempt to address some of the Peck family’s concerns, he and Colorado Department of Corrections Director Ari Zavaras are going to visit the North Fork Correctional Facility at the end of this month.
King said after he met the Peck family earlier this year, he began to wonder if Colorado was abandoning its oversight responsibilities by shipping felons out of state.
“I had some real concerns about us giving up our ability, in some ways, to have oversight of these people that are Colorado citizens,” King said. “Granted they’re felons, but they’re our felons, and we have a responsibility to make sure they’re doing their time in a safe environment.”
King said “outsourcing our felons” removes them from the support network of friends and family they need to transition from their criminal lifestyles and addictions back to living normal lives.
Zavaras said from a purely financial standpoint, private prisons — the six in Colorado and the North Fork Correctional Facility — are a cost-effective way to deal with Colorado’s exploding corrections population.
According to Department of Corrections statistics, Colorado’s inmate population has nearly doubled over the past decade, from 13,242 inmates in 2006 to 22,424 inmates this year. Nearly 5,000 of Colorado’s inmates reside in private prisons.
Zavaras said sending prisoners outside Colorado is neither ideal nor fair to the inmates, but it is necessary.
“Managing prisoners out of state, quite frankly, is very, very difficult for us,” Zavaras said. “If we would have had in-state beds, we wouldn’t be out of state. We’re only there as a last resort.”
He said there are plans to expand two existing private, in-state prisons. As soon as those expansions are completed, he said, “We will bring them back.”
Zavaras said he plans to scrutinize the Sayre, Okla., prison during his and King’s Oct. 28 and Oct. 29 visits. He said during that time he will not only speak with Colorado inmates but look into the concerns of inmates’ families.
Rep. Buffie McFadyen, D-Pueblo West, said that ideally Colorado would pull out of private prisons, whose missions are directly contrary to reducing recidivism.
McFadyen, who has 12 state and federal prisons in her southern Colorado House district, said private facilities have no reason to attempt to reintegrate felons back into society. She said private facilities see felons as possible repeat customers, so they have no incentive to decrease recidivism.
Removing inmates from Colorado, she said, is an even better way for private prisons to maintain demand for their beds.
“Sending an inmate out of state is almost guaranteeing they’ll come back in the system because of the lack of support,” McFadyen said. “I don’t know how an inmate succeeds when they have no support from home.”
The Pecks said they hope King and Zavaras’ trip to the North Fork Correctional Facility will give them and their peers a clearer picture of the harm distant relocations can have on prisoners.
“We recognize it’s not a simple problem,” Roger Peck said. “And farming them out is a solution, but in my mind it’s a very poor solution and certainly should not a long-term solution.”
In the meantime, he said he hopes policymakers realize their money-saving maneuvers affect Coloradans like his son.
Grand Junction Sentinel