The Denver Post
DENVER—Colorado's inmate population is about the same as it was in 2004, but the proposed budget for the state Department of Corrections is about $150 million higher than it was eight years ago—and it's raising questions from lawmakers who want to reduce spending.
"That's obviously a huge disparity there," Rep. Mark Waller, the third-ranking Republican in the House, said this week.
The debate over prisons is expected to heat up over the coming weeks as lawmakers finalize next year's budget. It could also play an important role as Republicans look for ways to fund a $98.6 million property tax break for seniors that Gov. John Hickenlooper and fellow Democrats say the state can't afford without cutting education.
Colorado's quarterly revenue forecast Monday will also give lawmakers a better idea of how much money they have to spend.
The corrections department's budget request is $646 million, about 9 percent of the state's general fund. It's about the same portion of the budget taken by higher education, which has been cut repeatedly in recent years.
In 2004, the budget for corrections was nearly $497 million. Back then there were about 20,700 prisons in the system, almost exactly the same number projected to be incarcerated in 2013.
During the last five months, the prison population has decreased by 946 and the drop is expected to continue, said Katherine Sanguinetti, department spokeswoman. But she said that doesn't tell the whole story for why the department's spending is increasing, and that the prison population is not reflective of what the budget should be, especially when inflation is factored in.
"We don't have any control of some of those costs—utility costs, medical costs, transportation. Those are things that we have no control over," she said.
Sanguinetti said about 53 percent of the corrections budget goes to its 6,200 employees. She said expenses for health, dental and life insurance for employees have increased, as has the cost of providing medical treatment for inmates.
The number of inmates has decreased with alternative court sentences, discretionary parole releases, and a decrease in parole revocations, Sanguinetti said. Crime is also down.
Waller said lawmakers are partly responsible for the declining prison population because they passed legislation to reduce felony drug sentences.
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.
Friday, March 16, 2012
The Denver Post