Declining Inmate Population Leads To Prison Closure

By: KKTV Email
By: KKTV Email
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Part of the Centennial Correctional Facility will close by 2013. The 316 high security bed expansion will shut down because Colorado has less crime and fewer inmates - downward trends that are expected to continue.

The state Department of Corrections announced Monday that it will close Colorado State Penitentiary II in Canon City, also called the South Tower of Centennial Correctional Facility.

Executive Director for the Colorado Department of Corrections, Tom Clements, said in a news conference Tuesday that two main reasons they are closing the $160 million prison is because of a state-wide declining inmate population and less use of solitary confinement.

When officials planned for the facility in 2003, and built it in 2010, prison population was constantly increasing. Over the last three years, however, Colorado has seen a drop in over 1,600 inmates. From a peak of 23,220 inmates in July, of 2009, Colorado's total inmate population fell to 21,562 last month.

And now the shrinking inmate population trend is picking up speed, dropping around 131 offenders a month; 1,048 in the last eight months alone.

This is thanks in part to a downward trend in our state’s crime rates. Charts display how there were 4,400 crimes per 100,000 residents in 2005; in 2010, only 3,000 crimes. It’s a slow downward trend officials have seen over the last decade, and one they project will continue.

Numbers also show there is now less use for solitary confinement, which CSP II was designed for. There are now less offenders in solitary confinement or “administrative segregation” decreasing from 1,468 offenders in September 2011 to 1,094 in January 2012.

Male inmate population is also on the decline. Officials project it will drop from 20,391 inmates to 18,020 by June 2015.

Total inmate population is forecasted to decline by an additional 925 offenders, 905 of which are male.

Tom Clements says there were several factors to consider.

“A decrease in the crime rate, a decrease in new court commitments to prison, and a decrease in parole violator returns to prison,” said Clements.

And because the facility was designed solely for solitary confinement, there is no recreation area or treatment center. Something D.O.C. officials need in order to help train offenders how to transition back into every life. It’s a new D.O.C. policy, in order to keep communities safe.

“When you think about who you want to live in your neighborhood and who you want to be your neighbor, you certainly want someone who has not gone from solitary confinement to being in a neighborhood,” said Roxane White, Governor Hickenlooper’s Chief of Staff.

47 percent of all inmates from solitary confinement were set free to the streets without any transition training. Now that number is only 16 percent.

White also tells 11 News the Governor’s office plans on developing a long-term study on the current declining trends in order to ensure facility efficiency across the state.

The 213 employees who currently work at Colorado State Penitentiary II will be reassigned positions in Fremont County. There are currently 60 vacant positions, and with a turnaround rate between 8 and 9 percent, officials say there will be enough positions open by the deadline of February 2013.

A panel headed by White and other DOC leaders fielded questions from prison workers Tuesday night. About 40 people filed in to the Town Hall event. Some told 11 News they have doubts about the job re-assignment plan.

"I don't think the problems are going to get solved," said corrections officer Nick Montanez. "I think that it's not going to be as clear as they think it is now. It's going to get cloudy when more problems arise between now and then."

Officials say the closure will save $4.5 million next year. It will save $13.5 million each year after that.

The section of the facility that houses the 316 high-security beds will be closed February 2013. Part of the facility will remain open for use of CCF-North. Officials say in the future they could lease the property and beds.

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