The first day of Colorado’s 2019’s legislative session starts on January 4th, and criminal justice reform advocates are urging state lawmakers to explore alternatives to opening another prison in the state. Centennial State Prison, CSP II, a solitary confinement facility, was partly used in 2010, but decommissioned in 2012 after decreases in prison population. Denise Maes, ACLU of Colorado’s Public Policy Director, says reopening the prison is not only unnecessary and unethical, but also a waste of government resources.
Gov. John Hickenlooper’s proposed fiscal year 2019–20 budget for the Department of Corrections includes nearly $40 million for prison expansion. Specifically, it includes $27.8 million to reopen CSP II and an additional $11 million to remodel and re-purpose the Denver Reception and Diagnostic Center (DRDC) and CSP II for the purposes of swapping the functions of both prisons.
“We spent hundreds of millions of dollars into a facility that has never been opened… The Department of Corrections over the last year have tried to make the case that their prison capacity is so low that they need to find other alternatives, and trying to prepare CSP2 for opening is one of the items they have put on their list… what we are hoping is that this will not be reflected in Governor Polis’ budget and that the state legislature will not approve these continued requests for more prison space and more prison openings and instead focus on how we can bring the prison population under control.”
The ACLU of Colorado and the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition warn that state officials’ projections for prison population growth are “significantly overestimated.” A memo they released in December includes a list of actions the General Assembly and criminal justice agencies can take to safely reduce the prison population, including adjustments to the parole system, full implementation of previously approved legislation, and reducing the crime classification for simple drug possession from a felony to a misdemeanor.