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With Colorado’s Corrections Budget Nearing $1 Billion, Advocates Urge State Lawmakers to Explore Alternatives to Opening Another Prison

December 19, 2018

Ahead of Joint Budget Committee’s Thursday briefing on proposed DOC budget—which includes nearly $40 million for prison expansion—ACLU of Colorado and CCJRC release memo warning of ‘significantly overestimated’ prison population growth projections

DENVER — As Colorado’s corrections budget nears $1 billion, criminal justice reform advocates are urging state lawmakers to explore alternatives to opening another prison in the state.

In a memo released Wednesday, ACLU of Colorado and the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition warn that state officials’ projections for prison population growth are “significantly overestimated” and highlights several steps the state can take to manage its prison population without opening another prison.

The Joint Budget Committee is scheduled to hold a briefing Thursday on Gov. John Hickenlooper’s proposed fiscal year 2019-20 budget for the Department of Corrections, which includes nearly $40 million for prison expansion. Specifically, it includes $27.8 million to reopen Colorado State Penitentiary II (CSP II) and an additional $11 million to remodel and repurpose the Denver Reception and Diagnostic Center (DRDC) and CSP II for the purposes of swapping the functions of both prisons.

The request to reopen CSP II stems from DOC’s desire to maintain at least a 2 percent vacancy rate to account for potential growth in the state’s prison population. As of November, the vacancy rate for male prison beds was 1.2 percent. This equates to a shortfall of only 75 prison beds, according to the ACLU-CCJRC memo, which notes it would take just a small decline in the prison population to cover. The memo also points out there are currently unused beds in community corrections that have been funded to help people transition after release from prison, which could be utilized to achieve the desired 2 percent vacancy rate.

“Instead of reopening a prison and supporting a $1 billion DOC budget that results in a 50-percent recidivism rate, the state should take proactive steps to reduce its prison population,” said ACLU of Colorado Public Policy Director Denise Maes. “It is critical that all Coloradans demand prosecutorial reform and that their legislators advance sentencing reform. Otherwise, Coloradans will be paying the tab for new prisons for generations to come.”

Legislators rejected the reopening of CSP II three times during the 2018 session, opting instead to pass legislation aimed at improving the state’s parole and community corrections systems, as well as its management of the prison population. As the ACLU-CCJRC memo notes, these measures are in early stages of implementation and have yet to achieve their maximum potential.

ACLU of Colorado and CCJRC say efforts to reopen CSP II are being driven largely by a prison population projection that is “significantly overestimated.” The projection, which was conducted by the Colorado Division of Criminal Justice (DCJ), estimated the state’s population would grow by approximately 1,000 inmates in FY18-19. However, these projections have not turned out to be reliable, and the prison population has actually declined by an average of 13 people per month since the beginning of the fiscal year.

“Opening another prison is neither fiscally prudent nor necessary to address prison capacity in Colorado,” said CCJRC Executive Director Christie Donner. “There are several ways the state could safely reduce the prison population without breaking the bank. We sincerely hope lawmakers will take a good, long look at all the options before throwing tens of millions of dollars at a solution in search of a problem.”

The memo includes a list of actions the General Assembly and criminal justice agencies can take to safely reduce the prison population, including adjustments to the parole system, full implementation of previously approved legislation, and reducing the crime classification for simple drug possession from a felony to a misdemeanor.

RESOURCES:

Read the full ACLU-CCJRC memo at: https://www.ccjrc.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/12-19-18-CCJRC-ACLU-memo-in-opposition-to-prison-expansion-final.pdf



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