DENVER — Colorado’s declining prison population has imperiled two private prisons in Southeastern Colorado, where the economy already is reeling from the recent closure of a state-run prison.
Savings from the pending closure of another state-run prison in Southern Colorado could be used to prop up the for-profit ventures.
Corrections Corporation of America, which operates Crowley County Correctional Facility in Olney Springs and Bent County Correctional Facility in Las Animas, has notified the state that it needs a subsidy or it will start shedding jobs, Gov. John Hickenlooper’s Chief of Staff Roxane White said Wednesday.
“CCA has said that if we don’t figure something out they will be in a situation where they have to close a prison,” she said.
Similar threats loom at Kit Carson Correctional Center in Burlington, which also is operated by CCA, and Cheyenne Mountain Re-Entry Center in Colorado Springs, operated by Community Education Centers Inc., according to White.
“At both the CCA facilities and Cheyenne Mountain, up to 20 percent of their beds are empty,” she said. “They are looking at the need to make staffing reductions.”
White confirmed that diverting the estimated $4.5 million in savings the state expects to realize next year from the pending closure of Colorado State Penitentiary II in Canon City is one option, but she doubts that would be enough to satisfy the private prison companies.
“It’s not enough to cover it,” she said. “In this case, we need in the neighborhood of $10 (million) to $15 million to keep the (private) prisons all operational.”
Ideally, White said, any action by the private prison companies could be postponed while the state conducts a thorough study of the factors driving the declining prison population, whether the trend is likely to continue and how the state can best manage its resources in light of the findings.
A bill launching that study has been approved by the Joint Budget Committee and is in the process of being drafted.
“We are trying to buy some time to really look hard at the data, and work intensively with communities to help mitigate the impact,” White said. “For any community, time to plan is really important.”
Bent County still is dusting itself off from the closure this year of Fort Lyon Correctional Facility, where the 204 displaced employees represented one in seven people in the county’s workforce. Prospects are improving for the area after the state announced proceeds from a lawsuit would be devoted to creating a transitional housing and treatment center for military veterans. Other possibilities for the site also remain possible.
“We have formed a significant fiscal and economic impact with the closure of Fort Lyon, and I don’t think that would be first on the list of things to repeat,” said Henry Sobanet, the governor’s budget director, during a briefing to the Joint Budget Committee.
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 30, 2012