Colorado’s prison population is falling so quickly that state officials are once again considering closing prisons, says the Denver Post, calling it a tough discussion given that prisons are often big employers in the counties where they are located. “It looks like the whole system should be shrinking,” said state Sen. Kent Lambert at a legislative hearing where Joint Budget Committee members discussed the decline in inmates and a consultant’s ongoing study of which prisons should be closed or repurposed. The study is due June 30.
In December, there were 2,109 empty beds in prisons across Colorado. Most were in private prisons, and the state is no longer paying for the space. Budget and criminal-justice statisticians predict the number of unoccupied beds will rise to between 2,600 and 3,600 by June 2014. Eliminating that much capacity could shut down two to 10 prisons, depending on the size of the facilities. Colorado is already at 7,500 fewer inmates than it once expected in 2013 and has closed three state prisons. “We think that is a really, really big deal,” said Roxane White, chief of staff to Gov. John Hickenlooper, referring to both the continuing decline in prisoners and the prospect of saving money with further prison closures.