Up, up, and away. Unfortunately, the state is not Superman, just Superprison.
Yet last year, the first of Gov. Bill Ritter's administration, the state prison population increased by only 254, according to the Colorado Department of Corrections, compared with a 1,025 inmate increase in the final year of the Owens administration.
Colorado's state prison population continued to grow in 2006, with 22,481 prisoners as of Dec. 31, 2006. That number is from the Bureau of Justice Statistics issued in December 2007. A year is a long time to wait for official prison statistics. Why can't we get the numbers for 2007 from all states by July of 2008?
This column reflects data from the first through the last year of Gov. Bill Owens' tenure, and the potential cost per inmate in 2008.
On Dec. 31, 1998, our state was 26th in gross numbers at 14,312 state prison inmates. On Dec. 31, 2006, we were 23rd. And our 22,481 prison inmates were an increase of 1,025 compared with Dec.31, 2005. That was the 14th largest gross gain that year among the 50 states.
Nationally, total state prisoners increased by 2.8 percent. By contrast, Colorado's 1,025 prison inmate increase was 4.8 percent, the 12th highest percentage tied with two other states.
How did we compare for the eight years of the Owens administration?
The United States had an eight-year 16 percent national gain of 188,837.
In that same time period, Colorado went from 14,312 state prison inmates to 22,481. That's a gain of 8,169, an awesome - or fearsome - 57 percent increase, which was third in the nation, but first among states with prisoners in five or six figures.
Some states have decreased their prison inmate numbers, while other have treaded water. At the same time Colorado increased 8,169 prisoners in eight years, Maryland went up only 373 prisoners, going from 17th in the nation in gross numbers of 22,572 to 22nd place with 22,945.
What happened in Maryland that didn't happen in Colorado?
According to a Governing Magazine article in July 2004, Maryland had shifted from penal retribution toward rehabilitation. "Its leading proponent, Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich came into office in 2003 pledging to get low-level drug offenders out of prison" and into treatment programs instead. Maryland also beefed up education and treatment programs for all inmates.
Ehrlich stated, "The war on drugs has been unsuccessful."
Colorado's numbers are 8,000 more than at the start of the Owens' administration. According to a newspaper report last July, the average annual cost is $27,500 per inmate. Multiplied by the 8,000 jump in prison population and you have a yearly cost increase of $220 million.