CCJRC Urges Alternatives to Prison Expansion

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CCJRC Urges Alternatives to Prison Expansion

[Following are two releases from the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition.]

CCJRC Update, February 24, 2003

In this update from the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition:

1. CSP expansion bill passes House
2. Budget woes worsen, but CCJRC has some answers!
3. Private prison expansion update

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1. HB 1256 passes House

House Bill 1256, which seeks to build a 948-bed addition to Colorado State Penitentiary (CSP), passed third reading in the House of Representatives on Wednesday, February 19. The final vote was 41-23.

Those who voted NO were: (14 Republicans & 9 Democrats)

Representatives Brophy (R), Cadman (R), Clapp (R), Cloer (R), Decker (R), Harvey (R), Judd (D), King (R), Larson (R), Lee (R), Lundberg (R), Madden (D), Marshall (D), Merrifield (D), Paccione (D), Plant (D), Ragsdale (D), Rhodes (R), Schultheis (R), Sinclair (R), Tochtrop (D), Weissman (D), and Young (R).

Those who voted YES were: (24 Republicans and 17 Democrats)

Representatives: Berry (R), Borodkin (D), Boyd (D), Briggs (R), Butcher (D), Coleman (D), Crane (R), Fairbank (R), Frangas (R), Fritz (R), Garcia (D), Hall (R), Hefley (R), Hodge (D), Hoppe (R), Jahn (D), Johnson (R), May (R), McCluskey (R), McFadyen (D), Miller (D), Mitchell (R), Pommer (D), Rippy (R), Romanoff (D), Rose (R), Salazar (D), Sanchez (D), Smith (R), Spence (R), Stafford (R), Stengel (R), Veiga (D), Vigil (D), Weddig (D), White (R), Wiens (R), Williams S. (D), Williams T. (R), Witwer (R), Spradley (R).

HB 1256 now goes to the Senate where a tougher battle is probable.

Incidentally, if you read the vote count carefully, you will notice that there was one vacancy in the House. That vacant seat occurred when Rep. Peter Groff was appointed to fill the Senate seat of Penfield Tate, who stepped down to run for mayor of Denver. On Friday, long-time CCJRC volunteer and supporter Terrance Carroll was appointed to fill Groff's seat. Congratulations Terrance!!

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2. Budget problems and solutions

The Colorado budget shortfall is now agreed to be the worst in the state's history. The legislature is finalizing $809 million in supplemental cuts to this year's budget and will have to cut an estimated additional $869 million from next year's budget. The General Assembly is taking the rare step of meeting in a joint session today to receive an update on the situation. Some legislators expect that cuts will need to be made in the state budget for each of the next five years.

On Tuesday, CCJRC released the briefing paper Incarceration and Correctional Spending in Colorado: A Legislator's Handbook on Criminal Justice Policy, 2003, a 23 page guide on the history of prison growth in Colorado. The handbook also makes eight simple recommendations that the legislature could take to reduce prison populations, save money, and enhance public safety. The report was distributed to all Colorado legislators and is available on the CCJRC website at http://www.ccjrc.org/CCJRC_Leg_Handbook.html.

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3. Private prison companies waiting in the wings

While the DOC is supporting HB 1256, which would expand the state-operated Colorado State Penitentiary, private prison operators are anticipating massive expansion in our state over the coming five years. The DOC has issued notices of intent to award contracts for two 500-bed private prisons in Pueblo and Colorado Springs (to be operated by Wackenhut Corrections and Community Education Centers, respectively). In the fall CCJRC filed suit against the commissioners of Pueblo County for violations of the open meetings law that the county committed while negotiating with Wackenhut. We continue to monitor the situation in Pueblo and Colorado Springs and will keep our members updated as information becomes available.

Executives from Corrections Corporation of America (the owner of all four of the private prisons currently operating in Colorado) met with the legislature's Capital Development Committee on February 11 to discuss expansion plans. During the hearing, DOC announced that it anticipates a need for around 3,500 new private prison beds over the next 5-7 years. Not surprisingly, Corrections Corporation of America is happy to meet this requirement.

On the federal front, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) has issued a request for proposals (RFP) seeking a private contractor willing to build new immigrant detention beds in Colorado. The RFP is tailored such that the only likely bid will be from Wackenhut, which operates an INS detention facility in Aurora which it could expand to meet the requirements of the RFP. CCJRC has requested more information from INS and will keep you updated.

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 20, 2003 CONTACT: Stephen Raher, (888) 298-8059 or stephen@ccjrc.org

NEWS RELEASE
Report details policy changes which could save state millions of dollars during fiscal crisis

Earlier this week, the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition (CCJRC) released a new briefing paper entitled Incarceration and Correctional Spending in Colorado: A Legislator's Handbook on Criminal Justice Policy, 2003. The report outlines Colorado's prison growth over the past two decades and makes several policy recommendations which could reduce prison populations, save money, and enhance public safety.

Joint Budget Committee chairman Senator Dave Owen has characterized Colorado's current fiscal situation as the worst in the state's history. While programs such as higher education and mental health services have been hit by severe budget cuts, Governor Bill Owens has presented a budget proposal which seeks to increase the Department of Corrections' budget by 12%.

The issue of prison expansion has gained a higher profile in recent days, as House Bill 1256 passed the House of Representatives. HB 1256 proposes to fund an $80 million prison in Ca–on City through the use of certificates of participation (COPs), which are a type of bonds which do not require voter approval.

The prison funded by HB 1256 would cost $34 million per year to operate and nearly $14 million in annual bond payments. The House of Representatives, debate on HB 1256 included discussions of sentencing and policy changes which could reduce the need to build additional prison beds through increased usage of alternatives to incarceration. While not endorsing any specific reform plan, Speaker of the House Lola Spradley (the sponsor of HB 1256) said that it would be appropriate for the Colorado General Assembly to consider sentencing and policy changes, if members desired.

CCJRC's report contains information on prison alternatives, such as mental health services and substance abuse treatment, and how they can be funded during Colorado's current budget cycle. Specifically, the report makes eight policy recommendations with some proposals offering potential savings of up to $22 million per year.

CCJRC co-coordinator and senior policy analyst Stephen Raher underscored the particular urgency of the new report by explaining "the new prison funding requests that are on the table right now would cost taxpayers about $128 million a year, at a time when legislators expect the state budget to be cut for each of the next five fiscal years. We cannot afford to continue building prisons÷fortunately there are effective and less expensive ways than prison to address societal problems."

One legislator who does support reexamining current criminal justice practices is Representative Tom Plant, a member of the Joint Budget Committee (JBC), who criticized HB 1256 as "addressing an effect rather than a cause." JBC vice chairman Representative Brad Young also voted against HB 1256, citing concerns that the bill could commit the state to hundreds of millions of dollars in long term debt at a time when state revenues are still uncertain.

Copies of Incarceration and Correctional Spending in Colorado are available at www.ccjrc.org/CCJRC_Leg_Handbook.html or by calling CCJRC at (888) 298-8059.

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