State Prison Population Study Forecasts Slow Increase in Numbers


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The prison population pendulum in Colorado will eventually swing towards larger numbers of inmates, eliminating, at least for the present, any cutback in state or private prison services in southeast Colorado. 

The Governor’s Office of State Planning and Budgeting was directed by the state legislature last year, to study prisoner population trends in Colorado and make recommendations as the trends impacted private and state run prisons.  The report said the drop off in numbers is declining and should eventually increase again in the future.  As it stands, there will be no need to close any facilities.   

That’s welcome news for county and municipal officials in southeastern Colorado, as Bent County Commissioners, primarily, regarded the chance of future prison alterations in their community, with foreboding.  Bent County and Las Animas is struggling to recover from the economic loss that was brought about with the downsizing and eventual closing of the Fort Lyon Prison.  The facility is currently being repurposed into a center to assist homeless veterans in the state become reintegrated into society.  Commissioners and other municipal representatives in southeast Colorado and around the state attended a series of meetings in Colorado held by DOLA, the OSPB and the Department of Corrections regarding the initial population study and potential impact it would have on various communities. 

With that in mind, state officials said they learned to be prepared to help the economic recovery of those town and cities and had allocated several million dollars in a legislative directed grant to offer assistance.  Since 2009, 3,200 prison beds from private and state run facilities have been eliminated.  

Not everyone is out of the woods yet, as a final study will be released on June 30.  The Prison Utilization Study will give an assessment of all the prison facilities in Colorado including the number of type of prisoner by degree of security needed to house them and which facilities could be closed if the population growth falls below expectations.  The study will be used by the Joint Budget Committee to develop a five year plan for the state’s prison system. 

The current study has developed a three tier evaluation of the state’s prisons.  Tier One will basically remain untouched based on their essential need in the correctional system.  Tier Two are those best suited to meet the system’s future custody level housing needs.  Tier Three are those facilities that could face temporary or permanent closure depending on long term population trends.  Tier Two facilities include Arkansas Valley Correctional Facility, Bent County Correctional Facility, Crowley County Correctional Facility and the facility in Trinidad.  Tier Three facilities noted in the report include:  Kit Carson Correctional Center and the Youthful Offender System, among others.

By Russ Baldwin

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