Who is the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition?

Our mission is to reverse the trend of mass incarceration in Colorado. We are a coalition of nearly 7,000 individual members and over 100 faith and community organizations who have united to stop perpetual prison expansion in Colorado through policy and sentence reform.

Our chief areas of interest include drug policy reform, women in prison, racial injustice, the impact of incarceration on children and families, the problems associated with re-entry and stopping the practice of using private prisons in our state.

If you would like to be involved please go to our website and become a member.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Greene: No escaping this error in corrections - The Denver Post

Greene: No escaping this error in corrections - The Denver Post

Alaska has its Bridge to Nowhere.

We're shackled with a prison for nobody.

The Colorado State Penitentiary II is a $208 million mothership of a maximum-security prison near completion in CaƱon City. It will sit unused now that the state has no money to staff it.

Criticizing Gov. Bill Ritter for building the 948-bed prison would be as unfair as blaming President Barack Obama for last year's stock-market crash. The prosecutor- turned-governor inherited the project from Bill Owens' administration and a fear-mongering 2003 legislature set on a supermax to isolate the state's most dangerous inmates.

Still, in a year when Ritter is furloughing workers and slashing services in other agencies, he's adding $6 million to the Corrections Department budget, including 27 new employees — among them three to run the boiler room at CSP II and eight to guard the empty building.

As if people actually break into prison.

The $1 million Ritter seeks for CSP II's 11 new workers could pay to either put 60 drug addicts through in-patient treatment programs, treat 350 mentally ill Coloradans or supervise about 1,000 people on probation, according to estimates. Or it could fund vocational classes and other services for parolees that Ritter promised but hasn't delivered.

"You don't want to leave a big facility completely empty," says corrections spokeswoman Katherine Sanguinetti.


"When there are deep cuts all over the state, the irony of staffing an empty building so heavily is absurd," counters state public defender Doug Wilson.

The absurdity grows as some officials chatter about selling the big house even before it opens.

What seems to go unnoticed at the Capitol is that the state can't sell a building that technically it doesn't own. The legislature sidestepped the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights by paying for the prison with certificates of participation — a complex financing tool that basically lets the state lease the building for the term of the debt. Privatizing would be unlikely given that a buyer would have to pay far higher interest rates than the state.

What's more, CSP II is designed to isolate inmates in solitary confinement 23 hours a day. As it is, Colorado has triggered human-rights complaints for isolating far more inmates — including juveniles — than the national average. State law prohibits private companies from running high-security prisons.

Opposition to CSP II was loud and foreboding when lawmakers debated the bonds in 2003.

Some critics argued even before the economic crash that the state couldn't afford to staff the prison in the long term. Others called for ending Colorado's ever- sprawling prison industrial complex by easing state sentencing laws to lower the overall prison population.

"What we're seeing now is some chickens coming home to roost," says Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition's Christie Donner, the chief naysayer.

The mothballed prison is a monument to misguided priorities and an embarrassment to a state that borrowed too eagerly to build.

Rest assured that its heating and cooling systems will be well-tended. And its empty cells ever so carefully guarded.


Anonymous said...

It seems to me that people like ex governor Bill Owen and his cohorts who finageled the financing for this building ought to pay the taxpayers for the boondoggle. It seems that they circumvented the state constitution which was an abuse of power by there office's.
They need to be held accountable in some way.
This article also shows that ex prosecuting attorneys dont make good governors either as they dont seem to be able to handle the department of corrections on many issues. djw

Anonymous said...

If it is against the law for private prisons to run high security facilities, who did the state intend to "lease" this prison to? themselves?