DENVER - Colorado will be more than 4,600 prison beds short by 2014 if it does not start immediately on a nearly $800 million proposal to build or expand five correctional facilities, Department of Corrections Executive Director Ari Zavaras says.
But before it launches into such a high-dollar plan, the state must consider another statistic. The rate of inmate growth, which was about 90 per month last year, has been reduced to an average of 45 a month since July, meaning those beds may not be needed so desperately.
The number of new prisoners has fluctuated wildly over the past half-year, with some months recording a decrease and others producing jumps of as many as 125 convicts. Yet state leaders have little time to decide if the need for beds has lessened because of an increase in anti-recidivism programs or if the downswing is an aberration.
To add more than 5,400 new beds requires significant planning. Yet, with the fiscal 2008-09 budget proposal set to be released soon, the idea of putting large amounts of capital-construction money aside for prisons has yet to become a hot topic at the Capitol.
"Timing is everything, and the Legislature is not very cognizant of the bed-shortage problem," said Rep. Buffie Mc-Fadyen, a Democrat whose district includes all of the prisons in the Cañon City and Florence areas. "And we're coming up on time to do something."
Projections show the state getting by with existing facilities for two years. The system will add 1,010 beds in two projects in 2009, providing a projected 125-bed surplus. But because officials project a 4.6 percent annual growth in prisoners, the system could be short 900 beds by 2011.