Looking at Corrections in Colorado

For a variety of reasons, corrections and criminal justice issues in Colorado have earned increased attention from the legislature.

Legislators looking for cost savings in the state budget are wondering why corrections spending is up almost 30 percent over eight years—even though the number of inmates is the same as it was in 2004. Colorado has apparently increased its per-inmate expenditures from $24,000 per year to $31,200 per year. Corrections officials point to increased costs for health care, utilities, and transportation, but legislators are determining whether cost-cutting measures might be possible, including prison closures, if there enough empty beds to warrant it.

One facility targeted for potential closure is so new that it won’t even be paid off until 2021. But shrinking offender populations and empty beds in other facilities suggest that simply closing the facility might actually make more sense. But Colorado’s legislators are first making sure that a possible prison closure is carried out with public safety implications in mind. For instance, legislators may seek to limit the number of prisoners who are directly released out of solitary confinement.

Furthermore, Colorado is considering proposals that would reduce the number of drug possession offenders entering the prison system. A bipartisan effort is underway to reclassify certain low-level drug possession charges from the lowest possible felony charge to the highest possible misdemeanor charge. These reforms would allow a portion of the savings to be reinvested into drug treatment programs.

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