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Issue Position: Prison Costs

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Colorado Prison Costs Decimate State Budget

From 1986 to 2008, the state Department of Corrections budget grew from $57 million to more than $704 million.
As of January 31, 2006, there were 28,243 people under the jurisdiction of the Colorado Department of Corrections (DOC). The prison population has increased 604% since 1980. During the same time, the population of the state increased 59%.

The state currently operates 24 prisons and contracts with private prison operators for 6 more prisons.

Since 1990, the state has built 12 new state prisons. All 6 private prisons used by the DOC were constructed since 1993. The state will need to add an additional 8,000 prison beds by 2011 to keep pace with the population growth.
Why are so many people in prison?

Three primary factors have increased the number of people in prison in our state:

1. Increasing sentence length and mandatory sentencing
2. The war on drugs
3. The declining use of discretionary parole following the passage of legislation requiring mandatory parole and increasing revocation rates on parole.

Sentencing Laws

In 1985, the legislature passed the Mielke-Arnold Bill, which doubled the maximum sentence for all felonies. The Mielke Bill has been widely acknowledged as the birth of Colorado's prison explosion. Within three years of the passage of the bill, the average sentence length had increased by two-thirds, while the average length of stay (in prison) has increased by 40%.

Seeking Alternatives

Substance Abuse Prevention: According to the Department of Corrections, 90% of men and women in prison are in need of substance abuse treatment. Over two-thirds of women were assessed to be in moderately severe to severe need of substance abuse treatment.

A 2001 study by the National Center for Alcohol and Substance Abuse found that Colorado has the lowest per capita spending on substance abuse prevention,treatment, and research out of the 46 reporting states.

Treatment is effective. In 1998, the Colorado Drug and Alcohol Abuse Division conducted a survey of people who had completed community-based substance abuse treatment programs. The findings showed:

* Within one year of completing treatment, 78% of patients reported no substance abuse, 80% had no re-arrest after treatment and unemployment among the patients surveyed dropped 41% after completion of treatment.

Treatment is cost effective. Community-based treatment ranges from $400 (for education-based programs) to $20,075 (residential therapeutic community) per patient per year --contrasted with $28,000 to incarcerate someone in prison.
According to the Department of Corrections (DOC), in 2003, 16% of people in prison in Colorado had a serious mental illness. The DOC also found that there are an insufficient number of community based mental health programs to treat people before they end up in prison.

Alternative Sentencing for Nonviolent Felons

These include probation, ankle bracelet monitoring and a system called Community Corrections.
Community Corrections is a twofold system that:

* Diverts nonviolent offenders from the prison system;

* Provides transitional living for those leaving DOC and re-entering society.

When parolees transition out through the CC system they have jobs, a place to live (for which they pay rent) and rules. It just makes sense for the state to start properly funding these halfway houses, thereby lowering the increasing amounts needed for prison funding.


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