The main reason Colorado’s adult inmate population has grown 420 percent in two decades is the flurry of minimum-prison-time statutes passed in recent years, the chief trial deputy for the Colorado Public Defenders Office said this week. The sentencing laws have taken away discretion from judges, who previously could consider past crimes and the likelihood that prison would do some good, said Doug Wilson, who spoke out as the state legislative considered toucher new mandatory minimums for drug offenses.
Of 20,000 people in Colorado prisons, 4,000 are there for drug offenses, Wilson said. It costs $76.23 per day to house a prisoner, but only $9.43 per day for community supervision probation, he said, quoting from the Colorado Department of Corrections’ fiscal 2003 report. Another alternative, ankle bracelets, are $27.25 per day, he said. “Put them on that, and you’re still saving $250,000 a year,” he said. But Sen. Ken Kester, R-Las Animas, whose district includes 22 prisons, says there’s a reason so many low-level offenders are behind bars: “Coloradans said we want to be tough on crime, so we’re locking them up.”