We need to pass a law that doesn't allow the importation of prisoners from other states and continue to work on those issues that put Coloradoans in prison when there are other safer cheaper alternatives available.
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
A private prison company is threatening to stop housing additional Colorado inmates unless it receives more state funds, an act one state lawmaker called “extortion.”
Rep. Bernie Buescher, D-Grand Junction, said Corrections Corporation of America has demanded a substantial increase in the daily rate the state pays private prisons to hold inmates.
“They said that if we don’t essentially do a 5 percent increase over each of the next five years, they will work at closing at least one of their prisons to Colorado prisoners and start bringing in out-of-state prisoners,” Buescher said.
Corrections Corporation of America prisons in Burlington, Las Animas, Olney Springs, Walsenburg and Sayre, Okla., house 4,048 Colorado inmates, according to Katherine Sanguinetti, spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections.
Those prisoners account for more than 20 percent of the state’s more than 19,000 prison inmates, according to agency statistics.
Steve Owen, spokesman for the Tennessee-based company, said Corrections Corporation of America requested the rate increase to keep its Colorado prisons operating at cost.
“We’re trying to keep our operations in Colorado financially viable looking to the long term,” Owen said. “It’s been a very good partnership.”
Owen declined to comment on the company’s dealings with state lawmakers. He said Corrections Corporation of America is merely trying to negotiate a reimbursement rate in line with prison companies’ pre-recession funding levels.
Following Colorado’s 2002 and 2003 recession, the state dropped its per-inmate, per-day private prison reimbursement rate from a high of $54.66 in fiscal year 2001-2002 to $49.56 in fiscal year 2004-2005.
Since then, the reimbursement rate has grown incrementally to $52.69.
Ari Zavaras, director of the Colorado Department of Corrections, was unavailable for comment Tuesday.
Rep. Al White, R-Hayden, said he understands the Corrections Corporation of America’s financial situation, but its threat to start “winnowing” Colorado inmates out of its facilities in favor of more lucrative out-of-state prisoners is insidious.
“I do feel there is some level of extortion involved here,” White said.
Buescher, who heads the state’s Joint Budget Committee, said Corrections Corporation of America’s responsibility for such a high percentage of the state’s inmates gives it a troubling level of influence over the state.
“When you use private prisons, you become hostage to their setting the rate,” Buescher said. “And we always knew that this issue was out there.”
White said if Corrections Corporation of America moves ahead with its plans, the state could find itself scrambling to either cram more inmates into its already overstuffed 22 public prisons, send prisoners outside Colorado or build a new public prison.
“We need to find beds for our prisoners,” White said, “and if we lose all of the (Corrections Corporation of America) beds, we’re in trouble.”
According to a Joint Budget Committee staff report, Colorado will need 5,100 new prison beds over the next five years.
White said building thousands of new public prison beds, without private prisons to help bridge the bedding gap, could run a tab of nearly $1 billion.
Rep. Jack Pommer, D-Boulder, said another short-term solution could be to encourage more community-based sentences for nonviolent felons. Community corrections programs, he said, are more cost-effective than prisons.
Pommer suggested during a Tuesday hearing the state could condemn and take over one of Corrections Corporation of America’s facilities, but said it would not be preferable.
He said for the time being, Colorado will have to rely on private-prison beds.
“We should have never let this situation get to the way it is,” Pommer said.
Grand Junction Sentinel