Seldom do Republicans clamor for more state spending, and more government bureaucracy, in opposition to Democrats. That’s exactly what’s happening in Colorado, however, as leading Republicans blast Democrat Gov. Bill Ritter for his proposal to save money by shrinking the prison population.
GOP gubernatorial candidate Josh Penry called the governor’s plan “Ill-conceived and reckless.” Colorado Attorney General John Suthers said the plan “will seriously compromise public safety.”
Colorado, like the rest of the country, has been on a foolish incarceration spending spree for years. Our state’s bloated prison bureaucracy has contributed to this country’s dubious distinction as having the largest prison population in the world — even larger than the prison population of China, which has more than four times the general population of the United States.
Ritter proposed in August an $18.9 million cost reduction that would involve increasing the number of state prisoners who are eligible for early release. It’s one part of an effort to address an anticipated state revue shortfall of $320 million.
The governor’s plan resulted from recommendations of the Colorado Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice. The bipartisan committee, comprised of people from a cross section of the state’s criminal justice system, recommended the early release of prisoners who comport with a strict standard of criteria, after studying data that showed the plan was unlikely to increase recidivism. Any prisoner meeting an assortment of behavioral guidelines would also have to be within six months of release from prison to qualify. That means nothing in this plan would result in an inmate receiving a substantial reduction in prison time. Even the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police supports the plan. The vast majority of convicts eligible for this slightly-early release program are nonviolent offenders, though a small percentage are murderers, sex offenders and robbers who have served most of their time.