The Denver Post
On paper, murderer and white supremacist Daniel Scott Dias appears to be the type of prisoner Colorado officials should lock up in a maximum- security prison cell and throw away the key.
And for years, that basically was how the Colorado Department of Corrections dealt with many violent felony offenders.
But in the past year, Dias and hundreds of other prisoners have been transferred to lower-security lockups as part of a new systemwide strategy that is less costly and gives inmates more educational opportunities.
The strategy is partly based on some sobering statistics.
"Ninety-seven percent of those who are locked up will get released," DOC executive director Tom Clements said.
Of those prisoners in administrative segregation, 47 percent are released directly to the community, he said.
The mass transfer of inmates from segregated single cells to general-population cell blocks is one of the main reasons Colorado will close Centennial Correctional Facility in Cañon City — its second maximum-security prison to shutter — by 2013 and before a newly built prison will be completely filled.
Colorado closed its first prison, Fort Lyon Correctional Facility, on March 1.
Prison populations are declining in Colorado and nationwide after decades of steady growth. For the first time since 1977, the total U.S. prison population slightly decreased in 2010.
Between 2005 and 2010, the U.S. crime rate dropped by 12 percent. In Colorado, the crime rate dropped by 32 percent over the same period, Clements said. Violent crimes are going down, he said.
"I think it's a very good thing," Clements said. "When the crime rate drops, people can feel a little safer."
When it became apparent Colorado needed to close another prison because of the state's rapidly decreasing prison population, DOC officials targeted the most modern.
Centennial cost $184 million to build and is the most costly to run because inmates are kept in single cells and more staff are needed to guard them, Clements said.
At the time Centennial was built, "it made all the sense in the world," he said.
The number of high-risk inmates was on the rise, many with mental illnesses. Others started riots, ran gangs or killed each other, Clements said. The administrative-segregation numbers swelled, as total prison numbers grew every year.
But last year, a study by national prison experts found that Colorado was keeping prisoners in segregation much longer than necessary.
DOC officials — including Clements — set up a system in which officials regularly review the behavior of inmates in administrative segregation.
Dias, who fatally stabbed his girlfriend Rebecca Ochs, 24, in Aurora in 1995, and was also accused of a white-supremacy murder plot, lived alone in a tiny cell at Centennial for two years.
Dias, 42, now lives in a cellblock at Sterling Correctional Facility where he often encourages black and Jewish cellmates to attend religious-worship meetings with him. He is a model prisoner.
Dias is serving a 45-year sentence on a conviction for second-degree murder. He said he decided on his own to change his life.
"I turned my life over to the Lord," he said. "I try to abide by every rule."
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.
Monday, June 04, 2012
The Denver Post