CANON CITY - Gov. Bill Ritter said he sees education as the key to keeping people out of prison.
For those who do fall into a life of crime, prison-learned trades that earn ex-offenders sustainable employment will be the key to keeping them from coming back, he said during a two-day swing through Park, Chaffee and Fremont counties.
In Ritter's ideal Colorado, more money would be funneled toward higher education instead of prisons.
"If we can arrest the rate of growth in prisons, we will be able to devote money to higher education," Ritter told Department of Corrections employees Saturday during a tour of Fremont County. "Over the last recession, Colorado took 30 percent out of the higher education budget over five years - the biggest loss to any higher education program in the country."
Don't get the governor wrong, though. The former Denver district attorney likes the idea of public safety and punishment for violent criminals, but from a fiscal perspective, he said, "we still need to do what we can so people aren't returned to prison when they leave."
A good example of that, he said, was pointed out to him Friday by Correctional Industries employee John Hall of the Buena Vista prison's heavy equipment operators training program."He told me that 70 people have been placed (in heavy equipment operator jobs) over the last three years and only one of them has returned to prison," Ritter said. "If we allow offenders to re-enter the world with a trade, a marketable skill - that would allow them to sustain employment over a period of time.