A mandate to reduce prison costs and a reduction in the number of women headed to prison have resulted in the closure of a state-run women's prison in Cañon City.
The Department of Corrections will decommission the Colorado Women's Correctional Facility today at 10 a.m. in a public ceremony, said Katherine Sanguinetti, DOC spokeswoman.
Closing the prison, which has been home to some of Colorado's most notorious female convicts including black-widow killer Jill Coit, will save Colorado more than $5 million a year, Sanguinetti said.
The prison's inmates have already been transferred to one private and two state-run women's prisons in Colorado.
Many were sent to a prison where they could continue taking cosmetology classes or participate in a dog-training course, Sanguinetti said. The prison also had recreational volleyball and softball, community choir and a GED program.
In 2006, the number of women entering Colorado prisons was growing at a rate of 10 women a month. Today, it is decreasing by two women a month, Sanguinetti said. Even after emptying the Cañon City women's prison, there are more than 100 empty beds for women in Colorado prisons, she said.
Staff members were offered jobs to fill vacancies at other prisons, Sanguinetti said. Where possible, staff who ran programs such as dog training were transferred to the same prison where their students were sent, she said.
The Cañon City women's prison, which has 275 beds, opened in 1968 with 90.
Eleanor Bergeman, 91, of Cañon City was on the first bus that brought a dozen inmates onto prison grounds. The gleaming new prison had modern camera-surveillance equipment.
Bergeman was the facility's sewing instructor and taught inmates how to sew uniforms for all of the state's male prisoners, she said.
"Officers and inmates wore their own clothes," Bergeman said. "Some were allowed to go into town to shop."
The prison would have fashion shows for residents of Cañon City in which the women would model clothing they had sewed, she said. When women finished their sentences, she would go with them to Denver clothing factories to help them get sewing jobs.
At first, most of the women were middle aged and had been convicted of writing bad checks or drunken driving, said Bergeman, who retired in 1982. Only one woman was there for murder after killing her husband, she said. Gradually, younger inmates were sent to prison, including a 15-year-old girl, who like many of the younger inmates was arrested for a drug offense, she said.
Over time, the prison came to house inmates convicted of more violent crimes.