Ari Zavaras, new director of Colorado’s Department of Corrections, inherited a prison system that is like a balloon ready to pop, says the Denver Post. Colorado has doubled its prison population in 10 years, slashed programs designed to rehabilitate inmates, and slowed construction of new prisons. Corrections officers feel a sense of unease because fewer people patrol the prisons. About 200 positions were eliminated during a statewide fiscal crisis that began in 2001, and only 62 of those have been restored. That leaves officers with less time to glean the kind of intelligence from inmates that can avert violent uprisings.
“I would contend that every prison in the state has the potential for a riot situation – every one of them,” said state Rep. Buffie McFadyen, whose district includes many prisons. Colorado’s prison population exploded from 4,000 inmates in 1985 to more than 22,000 today after the state toughened its sentencing laws in the late 1970s and 1980s. The budget grew from $57 million to $533 million. Zavaras will try to restore programs cut during the budget crisis. Drug, alcohol and sex-offender programs, along with education programs, were sharply curtailed. If programs are not restored, the current recidivism rate of 49.2 percent could get higher, Zavaras said. The Colorado Lawyers Committee has recommended a commission to study modifying sentences.