Ripple effects of closure of the boot camp program at Buena Vista Correctional Complex were discussed during a public meeting March 1 in the Buena Vista Community Center.
About 50 people attended as Ari Zavaras, Colorado Department of Corrections executive director, said, "There is no easy way to face what we are facing. The state budget has a $1.3 billion shortfall. We are facing a cut."
When budget cuts were first discussed, Zavaras said priority for Gov. Bill Ritter was maintaining safety of inmates, employees and the public. Ritter favors retaining programs for inmates.
Zavaras continued, "We've avoided layoffs. One advantage of a large agency is the number of retirements leaving jobs open," he said.
The 33 boot camp employees will be offered jobs within the main Buena Vista complex or an option to transfer to another location.
Zavaras said corrections population is declining about 70 inmates per month. The boot camp has a declining population and a per diem cost that rose to $109 per inmate per day.
"Of interest to me," he said, "is that the number of boot campers rearrested for a new crime is nearly double the number of rearrests for inmates from the other populations."
Alison Morgan, assistant director of business services and systems, said another factor considered was increased numbers of violent offenders and decreasing numbers of boot-camp-eligible offenders.
Zavaras talked about "stress within the system," citing an increase of inmate-on-inmate and inmate-on-staff assaults. There were three homicides in correctional locations during the last three months.
Zavaras attributed some problems to increased numbers of gang members - from 5,000 to 10,000. Prison employees locked down facilities 176 times this year, he said.
Another system stress is having the right bed for an inmate, Zavaras said. Buena Vista Correctional Complex is a medium-custody facility, but the number of high-security or close-custody inmates is 47 percent of the population.
Statewide, he said, 1,300 inmates are housed out of their custody level which causes "lots of problems."
Morgan said, "It (became) boot camp versus the need for beds."
Zavaras said a program had to be cut to open 316 beds. Feb. 18, the department opened Tower 1 in the newly constructed Colorado State Penitentiary II within the Cañon City prison complex.
Karl Spiecker, director of finance and administration, said suspension of the boot camp will save $900,000 the first year and $1 million a year thereafter.
The department is saving $5.2 million with closure of the Colorado Women's Facility, $6.7 million on decreased inmate housing in private prisons and $10.9 million in furloughs for state employees.
Park County Undersheriff Monte Gore said the county jail houses offenders awaiting arrival in boot camp.
Suspension of boot camp, Gore said, means Park County will lose personnel and income of $144,000. Park County is asking for help seeking alternatives for housing other offenders, he said.
The economy isn't good in Park County, he said.
Another group affected by state budget cuts is boot camp employees. One asked which other state agencies are taking cuts and what cuts other department of corrections employees will receive.
Spiecker said on payday correctional employees will receive a 2.5 percent pay cut because of budget slicing in addition to increased withholding of Public Employee Retirement Association contributions.
Zavaras said, "If the state revenue shortage continues, it could mean more adjustments beyond what we're facing tonight."
Residents who volunteer to work with boot camp inmates said the program has been successful and helped inmates.
Volunteer B.J. Kirkwood said it was his impression the increase in boot camp inmate recidivism is because budget cuts several years ago forced loss of after-care programs.
"I hate to see (boot camp) disappear because of an invalid recidivism rate," he said.
Another volunteer said she worries about programs that will be available for boot camp inmates after their release.
Zavaras replied, "There are treatments and programs throughout the systems."
Chaffee County Commissioner Dennis Giese asked prison officials to understand that what the department of corrections does will have an economic impact upon the county and schools.
Susan Shampine of Buena Vista said she applauded placement of former boot camp employees within the system.
"On the other side," she said, "the impact on this small community is huge.
Zavaras replied, "We aren't saying it doesn't change lives here."
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.
Wednesday, March 10, 2010