Colorado Department of Corrections director Ari Zavaras defended a plan Saturday to reduce prison costs by releasing some prisoners up for parole early.
“We didn't just decide, you know we've got the budget crisis, we've got to save some buck,” he said. “The goal of this is increased public safety. Not only do I not think this is not a public safety risk, I think we're going to increase it, and I think the research has shown that.”
Zavaras — a longtime law enforcement official and former Denver police chief — spoke at a community forum hosted by Rep. Jim Riesberg, D-Greeley, at the Evans Community Complex. He said some of the revenue saved by the early release program will go to increased monitoring of those on parole and programs to help the prisoners adjust back into society after leaving prison.
More than 50 people, including Weld County Sheriff John Cooke and Greeley Police Chief Jerry Garner attended the forum. Garner and Cooke expressed concerns about the plan.
Zavaras told the crowd that since its beginnings in September, only about 12 prisoners have been released early into the northern Colorado region. The early release program — officially known as accelerated release to parole — was announced in August. It is part of the effort to close the state's budget gap this year. The program allows the parole board to release prisoners who are within six months of release early.
The program was initially projected to save $19 million. Karl Spieker, the chief financial officer for the Department of Corrections said that because early releases have been slower than projected, it's too early to tell how much exactly the program will actually save. He said it costs about $20,000 a year to house a prisoner for a year.
Zavaras said that while the first objective of the plan is to improve public safety by giving paroled prisoners a better chance to return to their community without falling back into criminal activity, the budget savings also are important.
Who is the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition?
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.
Monday, December 21, 2009