Debate over prison funding
Coalition opposes proposal to open 316 beds at CSP II
Peter Marcus, DDN Staff Writer
Friday, March 12, 2010
A coalition opposed to a $10.8 million proposal to open one of three towers at Colorado State Prison II is calling on the powerful Joint Budget Committee today to reject the proposal supported by the Department of Corrections and Gov. Bill Ritter.
Criminal defense attorneys, mental health advocates and justice reform proponents say now is not the time to be approving additional funding for new prison beds Ń not when the state has already cut over $2 billion in the current fiscal year and is looking at another $1.5 billion in cuts in the upcoming year.
The JBC is expected to weigh the $10.8 million proposal today.
As part of Ritter’s latest $340 million budget-balancing proposal unveiled in February, the governor is calling for opening 33 percent, or 316 beds, of the new Colorado State Penitentiary II. Supporters of the proposal point to a string of violent incidents caused by some of the state’s most violent and destructive prisoners who are being housed in regular prisons.
The new tower would house some of the state’s most violent offenders, with inmates locked up about 23 hours a day.
Proponents of the proposal point out that DOC services and facilities have been cut by $14.8 million as part of recent budget-balancing measures, making the issue a matter of public safety.
At a news conference last week, Corrections officers pointed out that there have been three inmate murders over the last several months. They also pointed to a Corrections officer who had her throat slashed by an inmate at Limon Correctional Facility and another Corrections officer who was murdered at Limon Ń all within the last decade.
But critics say housing the state’s most violent offenders in one unit is a poor fiscal and social move. They say increasing vocational programs and so-called wrap-around services for parolees is a better use of money. The state recently backed out of $3 million in vocational programs and $1.8 million in wrap-around services when the economic downturn intensified and budget shortfalls increased.
“It is counterintuitive and counterproductive to cut successful, research-based programs that promote productivity and safety both within prison and after release,” said Christie Donner, executive director of the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition.