CO Debates Merits, Costs Of Imprisoning Drug Offenders


Nonviolent drug offenders are the largest single classification of prisoners in the Colorado Department of Corrections, says the Rocky Mountain News. This year, with total inmates reaching 20,445 as of June 30, 4,395 were drug offenders. That’s a jump of 4 1/2 times in 12 years, a growth rate almost twice as fast as the rate for the general prison population. Proponents of sentencing reform say taking up prison space with drug offenders doesn’t reduce crime; prosecutors disagree.

Taxpayers paid an average of $26,248 last year to keep each inmate behind bars. Substance abuse treatment outside of prison runs $3,500 to $5,000 a year per person. To meet budget cuts, state prisons reduced the scope of its in-house substance abuse program by $2.9 million, about a 40 percent cut from the $7.4 million budgeted in 2003. Christie Donner of the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition said that imprisoning drug users, then cutting treatment programs while they are there is shortsighted. Prosecutors disagree with the reformers’ claim that nonviolent drug offenders don’t belong in prison. Bob Grant of the Colorado District Attorney’s Council says that by the time a nonviolent drug user makes his first entry into a Colorado prison cell, he is no stranger to the criminal justice system.


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