The Colorado Department of Corrections (CDOC) is requesting more than $30 million to re-open two state prisons due to a rising prison population, according to Bethany Blankley of Watchdog.org, reprinted in the Pueblo Chieftain. If this request is granted, CDOC will reach an operational budget of close to $1 billion.
Some advocates point to the state’s “war on drugs” policy for the rise of the prison population and believe that investing in drug treatment programs would be more cost effective.
“Many taxpayers are tired of paying exorbitant costs for policies that don’t work, like the war on drugs,” said Christie Donner, Executive Director of the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition (CCJRC). “Colorado does not need more prisons. It needs a more sensible drug policy that treats drug use as a public health issue instead of a criminal justice issue.”
CCJRC released a new report stating that the filing of felony drug cases more than doubled for the state between 2012 and 2017. A charge of simple drug possession made up the majority of the cases filed, according to the Pueblo Chieftain article.
Colorado’s legislature tried to reform its drug laws when they passed Senate Bill 13-250 in 2013. The intent was to send high-level dealers to prison and give community supervision and treatment to individuals charged with possession, the article said.
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But the bill had the opposite effect. Those sentenced for “simple drug possession” increased between 2015 and 2016 and the majority of those were women.
“Despite reform efforts, the war on drugs continues to play an outsized role in fueling Colorado’s prison population and, in turn, its prison budget,” Donner said. “No one thinks the status quo is stemming the flow of either illegal drugs or drug addiction, and yet it not only persists but is getting worse, particularly for women.”
The CDOC is requesting the reopening of Colorado State Penitentiary II in Cañon City at a cost of $18.8 million. The second prison is Huerfano County Correctional Facility, with an operational cost of $12.3 million. The CDOC already has a budget request of $922 million for its fiscal year 2018-19 and these additional funding requests would push its budget to nearly $1 billion, reported the article.
“The legislature should revisit the state’s drug sentencing structure,” said Pete Lee, House Judiciary Committee Chair in a statement, “(and) come up with some new ideas for reaching that original goal and redouble efforts to steer people struggling with addiction into treatment rather than prisons.”
The effort to reopen Colorado State Penitentiary II died in a state House committee May 8. CDOC may still reopen Huerfano with the permission of the Joint Budget Committee alone.