Thursday, June 13, 2013

Prison Meeting

Locals gather to discuss the potential closure of LCF

By Will Bublitz

Which one of Colorado’s prisons will fall under the state’s budgeting-cutting ax and be closed down has not yet been determined.
That was the message of Monday’s meeting on future Colorado prison closures held at the Limon School cafeteria. About 35 local residents attended the meeting.
“No decision has been made yet,” Reeves Brown,  Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA), said. He explained the final recommendations will be made by the end of this summer.

The state’s decision on prison closures is vital to the local community because the Limon Correctional Facility has been an important part of the area’s economy since it opened in 1991.
Monday’s community meeting was sponsored by DOLA, Colorado Department of Corrections (DOC), as well as the Governor's Offices of Economic Development & International Trade and State Planning & Budgeting. It was part of a five-day tour by those government agencies of the rural communities where the state’s prisons are located.
PRISONS TO BE CLOSED – Reeves Brown, Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, discussed the ongoing “Prison Utilization Study” which will determine which of the state’s prisons will be closed. About 35 local residents attended Monday’s community meeting at the Limon Public School.

“We wanted to engage every one of these communities,” Brown said. “We want to let them know where we are going.”

The tour is being conducted as part of the “Prison Utilization Study,” a system-wide evaluation of Colorado’s state and private prisons. In 2012, the Colorado General Assembly directed the Office of State Planning & Budgeting to perform the study to develop a multi-option plan to reduce costs, including the closing of prisons that are no longer needed.

The reason for the prison closures is the declining number of prisoners in recent years. From a record high of 19,790 inmates in 2008, Colorado’s total incarcerated population in both state and private prisons dipped to 17,186 by April 2013. A number of factors has caused this drop in numbers including falling crime rates, reduction of prison terms and increasing the number of paroles.

“While this downward trend is ostensibly good news, we are being mindful of the impact on the communities where these prisons are located,” Henry Sobanet, Director of the Office of State Planning and Budgeting, said. “We have to have a plan to move forward. We wanted to get ahead of the curve this time.”

All of the state officials at Monday’s meeting stressed the need to avoid the problems that resulted from the February 2012 closing of the Fort Lyon Correctional Facility at Las Animas. While the shutting down of that 500-bed prison saved the state $12.3 million annually, it had an adverse impact on Bent County’s economy and the more than 200 employees who worked at that facility.

FINANCIAL HELP AVAILABLE – During Monday’s meeting on future closures at Colorado prisons, Henry Sobanet, Director of the Governor’s Office of State Planning & Budgeting  said the Colorado Assembly has allocated $3 million to help communities who will be adversely impacted by the closings.
To offset any future impact of prison closures, Sobanet said the Colorado Assembly earlier this year allocated $3 million from the state’s General Fund to develop a two-year program to help grow and diversify the economies of rural communities that are heavily reliant upon the state’s prison facilities. This program includes grant money for infrastructure development and job training. 
“We learned the lesson from Fort Lyon,” Sobanet said. “The $3 million grant program is designed to assist the communities.”

While the financial savings to the state and the impact to rural communities will be important factors in the final decision on prison closures, the capabilities of those facilities will also be considered.
“The flexibility of the prison facility, the variety of uses of the facility, its classroom spaces, proximity to good health care and lots of programming space will make a facility more desirable from an operational viewpoint,” said Roger Werholtz, DOC’s Interim Executive Director, said.

Another important factor in the decision will be the types of prisoners that have to be incarcerated. Werholtz said “higher custody levels” will be a consideration in which prisons will remain open and which will be closed.

“You can put a minimum security prisoner in a maximum security facility, but you can’t put a maximum security prisoner in a minimum security facility,” he said.

The Limon Correctional Facility is rated as a Level 4 facility, which is capable of handling  prisoners requiring “administrative segregation.” A Level 3 facility is designed to deal with “medium security” inmates, while a Level 5 prison is for “maximum security” prisoners.

The Prison Utilization Study is scheduled to be completed by June 30. Brown said it will contain preliminary recommendations on prison closures, which will be posted online.
“You’ll be able to link to the study and offer feedback,” he said.

The final recommendations will then be worked out between the Governor’s Office of State Planning & Budgeting and the General Assembly’s Joint Budget Committee.

“The proposed plan will be completed by late summer or early fall,” Brown said. “It’ll probably be September.”

The implementation of the final plan could begin during fiscal year 2013-14.

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