By Alan Prendergast, Thursday, Mar. 11 2010 @ 4:28PM
Categories: Follow That Story
|"We were lucky that day": Colorado Department of Corrections Sgt. Bill Nelson describes responding to a 2007 inmate attack on Limon staffer Pam Kahanic (left).|
After all, the Colorado Department of Corrections spent more than $200 million to build the new state pen, known in sequelspeak as CSP 2, before running out of money to operate it. And three recent inmate homicides in the system have been blamed on the DOC's "shortage" of administrative segregation beds, leaving ultraviolent maniacs and stone-cold killers to mingle with more cultured, genteel, peace-loving felons.
So putting more inmates into 23-hours-a-day lockdown should straighten things out, right?
Ah, if only the science of corrections was that simple. When lawmakers on the Joint Budget Committee sit down on Friday to consider the DOC's request for another $10.8 million to open part of CSP 2, they're going to find themselves in the crossfire of a complex argument about recidivism, mental illness and the staggering cost of locking down an ever-growing percentage of the prison population.
The basic pitch for moving ahead with the new supermax is that, thanks to budget cuts and increasing inmate violence, the system is becoming more dangerous for staff and inmates alike. At a press conference at the Capitol last week, corrections officers complained of low morale and faulty radios and grimly described the deteriorating situation at the Limon Correctional Facility. There, officer Eric Autobee was slain in 2002 and Pam Kahanic narrowly survived a throat-slashing by an inmate who took her hostage in 2007.
The officers were protesting a recent Republican attempt at across-the-board cuts to the DOC budget that would have slashed another 209 DOC employees, on top of the ninety lost in the past fiscal year. But the event was also a backhanded endorsement of CSP 2, which state representative Buffie McFadyen described as a "relief valve."
McFadyen conceded that the DOC is short on mental health services and that many of the current ad-seg inmates -- almost 40 percent, actually -- are classified as mentally ill. But, she said, "I can't deal with mental health issues of inmates if I don't have safety first."
Fair enough. But the coalition of groups rallying against CSP 2 -- including the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar, the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, and the Colorado chapter of the ACLU -- claim that, contrary to the DOC's assertions, supermax prisons don't make the rest of the system (or the public, for that matter) any safer. And they have some interesting data on their side.