As Colorado faces an historic budget and economic crisis, including $1.4 billion in cuts, and risk of closure of significant portions of state services, including public higher education, the question has quite fairly been asked…
“Have we done everything we can to reduce wasteful spending?”
And the answer is “no.”
But it may not be where you think. There is no fluff or frills in Colorado’s budget that has one of the lowest state tax rates in the Country and a requirement to balance the budget every year. Corrections is feeling the brunt of the legislature’s failure to lead and act to take on sentencing reform.
We have introduced 2 omnibus sentencing reform bills today that reflect smarter choices on prison policy and spending.
We are currently spending twice as much on corrections as higher education and it is now the 3 largest item in our budget and growing. Most other states have taken similar moves as an effort to be evidence-based, smarter on crime and smarter with spending taxpayer money. Colorado can’t afford NOT to consider sentencing reform.
Here are some facts to consider:
- It costs $30,386 per inmate per year in operating costs and $150,773 per year per inmate for capital construction.
- 74% of our prison population is in for non-violent offenses.
- The Department of Corrections has become the single largest “mental health care provider” in the State of Colorado.
- Probation costs $3.42 per day to supervise whereas prison costs $78.95 per day to supervise.
- 1 in 29 Colorado residents are now under correctional control. (That figure was 1 in 102 in 1982).
- At the current rate of incarceration we would need to build a new prison every year.
- For the cost of incarcerating 1 inmate we could
- Educate 5 children in K12;
- Fund tuition for 10 students in higher education;
- Pay the full health insurance premiums for 3 families per year;
- Fund 6 Medicaid enrollees for health care;
What’s more is that we have research that demonstrates that we are no longer getting any public safety returns at the level we are spending. If fact, there is a significant body of research demonstrating that the funds can be better spent in ways that not only improve public safety and reduce recidivism but also save us money.
We can no longer afford to waste money on things that don’t work and we need to prioritize our money on incarcerating people who are a true threat to society.