CO Prison Projections Take Sudden Downward Turn

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Colorado officials aren’t sure why, but their forecast of record-high prison population made last December has been radically revised downward, the Denver Post reports. What statisticians had predicted as a steady climb to more than 24,000 inmates by June 2025 became, after a recent recalculation, a prediction of fewer than 21,000, far below the system’s peak population in 2009.

Lawmakers for years have struggled to address a crowded prison system, where extremely low vacancy rates sometimes mean less than a hundred of the state’s 14,500 beds are available and private prisons have been used to house thousands of additional inmates. The issue has created a tug-of-war between a Department of Corrections that has repeatedly asked for millions of dollars to address the problem while lawmakers look for other, less-costly methods to reduce the population such as parole and sentencing reform. So the revision could give hope to Colorado lawmakers and advocates hoping to address crowded prisons without expanding bed capacity. But it also drew skepticism from lawmakers, one of whom chided forecasters for models that have “been off for years.” The system saw a small increase in the number of people being released, but Greg Sobetski, a staff forecaster with the legislative council, said the biggest factor in the changed forecast was a drop in the number of people admitted to prisons on new charges. Sobetski said it’s unclear what is driving that drop. Factors could include changes in policing, less crime, decisions from judges and diversion programs. It’s also unclear what impact a slate of criminal justice reform laws passed this year has had on the numbers.

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