Staffing new prison a ‘daunting task’ in faltering economy

(Photo/bitzcelt, Flickr)
(Photo/bitzcelt, Flickr)
While Colorado has begun construction on a new 320-bed super maximum security prison, public officials are still wondering how it will be staffed adequately under a sluggish economy and a statewide hiring freeze.

Colorado State Penitentiary II (CSP II) is set to be completed by 2010 to assist in detaining what both law enforcement members and civil liberties advocates agree is a swelling inmate population.

But staffing the new prison could prove problematic during hard financial times when the state is trying to save money.

In September, following the national banking crisis, Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter ordered the state to halt new construction projects and the hiring of new employees.

So far the hiring freeze only applies only to the 2008-09 financial year, and even if it was extended, there are provisions making budgetary exceptions for public safety projects such as the prison, which will be located in Cañon City.

“Still, it’s going to be a very daunting task in the state’s budget to staff all of CSP II, certainly,” said Rep. Buffie McFadyen, a Democrat from Fremont County where the prison will be located. “Especially since I’m not sure if we’ve completed staffing back before the last recession in 2001-02.”

Colorado experienced a 400 percent increase in the state’s prison population from 1985 to 2005, and since the beginning of the decade the population increased by nearly 7 percent from approximately 16,000 inmates in 2000 to 23,000 in 2008 (PDF), according to state reports.

The state’s corrections budget also increased from $57 million in 1985 to $533 million in 2005, and the inmate population is projected to increase by 25 percent in the next five years.

“CSP II is necessary to meet prison population demand,” said Evan Dreyer, spokesman for the governor’s office. “But the bigger-picture, longer view is that the governor’s anti-recidivism package will hopefully reduce demand as we move forward.”

Ritter’s office has proposed increasing funding educational programs and substance abuse treatment to battle Colorado’s enormous recidivism rate, which is defined by how many state inmates are returned to jail after committing another crime or violating parole.

In 2007, the state’s recidivism rate was reported by corrections officials to be approximately 52 percent.

It is currently unknown how many full-time employees will be designated to work the new prison.

Erin Rosa was born in Spain and raised in Colorado Springs. She is a freelance writer currently living in Denver. Rosa's work has been featured in a variety of news outlets including the Huffington Post, Democracy Now!, and the Rocky Mountain Chronicle, an alternative-weekly in Northern Colorado where she worked as a columnist covering the state legislature. Rosa has received awards from the Society of Professional Journalists for her reporting on lobbying and woman's health issues. She was also tapped with a rare honorable mention award by the Newspaper Guild-CWA's David S. Barr Award in 2008--only the second such honor conferred in its nine-year history--for her investigative series covering the federal government's Supermax prison in the state. Rosa covers the labor community, corrections, immigration and government transparency matters. She can be reached at erosa@www.coloradoindependent.com.

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