DENVER - State prisons in Las Animas, Pueblo and Fremont counties will see 280 more jobs and 173 more inmate beds if the Colorado Legislature goes along with a construction priority list approved on Thursday.
The list of major state construction projects that the Capital Development Committee forwards to the Joint Budget Committee each year includes adding more beds to the Fort Lyon Correctional Facility, but losing bed space at two other facilities in the region.
The prison changes were an addition to other Southern Colorado projects that also were included on the list.
In an effort to increase the number of beds the state has available for mentally ill prisoners statewide, the Colorado Department of Corrections wants about $10 million from the Legislature to make a series of changes at four facilities:
Add 74 administrative segregation beds at the San Carlos Correction Facility, but lose 103 therapeutic and special needs beds, for a net loss of 29 beds.
Add 32 therapeutic and 144 low security special needs beds to the Fremont Correctional Facility in Canon City, but take away 224 general population beds, for a net decrease of 48 beds. Add 96 high security special needs beds at the Centennial Correctional Facility in Canon City, no change to 144 close custody beds, but relocating the same number of inmates to the Colorado State Penitentiary, for a zero net change.
Add 96 close custody beds, but lose 96 medium custody beds for a zero net change.
To help make up the net loss in beds - 77 overall - the department also requested and received another $10.5 million to increase the 500-bed Fort Lyon facility near Las Animas by 250 beds.
That project also calls for expanding the facility's kitchen and dining hall, creating a new recreational facility, renovating its visiting and shop/vocational space and building a new 16 single-bunk segregation unit.
All of that also will require adding 115 new jobs to the facility.
Sen. Ken Kester, R-Las Animas, said he was pleased to see the Fort Lyon expansion get the CDC's nod, but added that the state also needs to look into expanding other state prisons in the region, such as turning the 480-bed Trinidad Correctional Facility into the "mega-facility" as was initially planned.
"What should be on the very top of our list now is the expansion of Trinidad," Kester said. "Fort Lyon and Trinidad, not because they're in my district, but because that just makes sense to expand those two facilities."
Though the Pueblo and Canon City facilities will see fewer general population inmate beds, they would gain in personnel. The DOC also is proposing increasing staff at San Carlos by 48 people, Centennial by 52 workers, Fremont by 64 people and Sterling by five.
Work at three Southern Colorado facilities also include adding kitchen and recreational space at San Carlos, installing air conditioning in cells at Centennial, and expanding the medical building by 1,970 square feet at Fremont.
If the JBC and the rest of the Legislature approve the plan, the department hopes to begin construction this summer and completing it by 2010.
Karl Spiecker, chief financial officer for DOC, said that while the department knows it will be losing beds at some facilities, it will gain much needed beds overall and help it deal with an increasing number of mentally ill inmates at the same time.
"Yes this takes beds off-line, but the upside is we're going to be able to deliver better mental health services to our inmates by having those beds on an available basis," he said.The Pueblo Chieftain