Denver Direct: It’s About Time
Saturday, September 5, 2009
The medieval, barbaric practice of locking people up for bad behavior is too expensive now. Let’s see – economic crises, cutting police force, releasing prisoners with no training, highest unemployment – yeah, that should work. Oh, and what about that new downtown prison? Didn’t we “need” it to relieve over-crowding?
Reporting from Denver – After decades of pursuing lock-’em-up policies, states are scrambling to reduce their prison populations in the face of tight budgets, making fundamental changes to their criminal justice systems as they try to save money.
Some states are revising mandatory-sentencing laws that locked up nonviolent offenders; others are recalculating the way prison time is counted.
Colorado will accelerate parole for nearly one-sixth of its prison population.
Corrections has become the second-fastest-growing item in state budgets, second only to Medicaid. And, unlike Medicaid and many other programs, states pay for prisons with almost no help from Washington.
In Colorado, 9% of the state budget goes to corrections. More taxpayer dollars go to house its 23,000 prisoners than to educate the 220,000 students at Colorado’s public universities, noted Evan Dreyer, a spokesman for Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter Jr.
The state has gone through severe cuts already this year — it lopped 10.5% off of its budget in June. Ritter later cut an additional $320 million and counted on saving $44 million over two years by letting 2,600 ex-cons end their probation early and having the parole board consider earlier parole for 3,500 inmates.
A nonpartisan commission recommended the moves in December, and Dreyer noted that inmates eligible for faster parole were already nearing release. “These are people who are getting out of prison anyway within six months,” he said.
The parole board has started considering whom to let out, but Republicans have attacked the plan as too risky. “It’s inevitable these people will commit crimes,” said state Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, who hopes to challenge Ritter in next year’s governor’s race.
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