300 show up to oppose closure of Rifle Correctional Center | VailDaily.com

300 show up to oppose closure of Rifle Correctional Center

Heidi Rice
Rifle, CO Colorado

RIFLE, Colorado ” Around 300 people turned out for a public meeting Tuesday night to oppose a proposal made by the governor’s office last week to shut down the Rifle Correctional Center.

A crowd of people from all walks of life packed into the auditorium at Colorado Mountain College’s West Garfield Campus in south Rifle to voice their opinions on the proposed closure.

Officials from the Department of Corrections (DOC) mediated the meeting, explaining their position and taking comments from the crowd.

“This is really your meeting as opposed to ours,” said Ari Zavaras, executive director of the DOC.

Zavaras acknowledged that the recommendation to close the Rifle Correctional Center (RCC), a 192-bed facility with 57 employees, was one of the most difficult decisions he’d had to make in his life as it affected so many people.

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Mayor Keith Lambert was one of many who spoke in opposition of the closing of the Rifle Correctional Center, which not only provides local staff jobs, but provides free labor for a number of facilities throughout the city, including the senior center, the city’s parks department, the Burning Mountains Fire Protection District, the Rifle Fish Hatchery and others, which would not be able to provide services without the inmate labor.

“The city of Rifle has taken a very strong opposition to the closure of the Rifle Correctional Center,” Lambert said to the crowd. “As a community who has lived through a boom and bust cycle for many, many years, this is a big hit for us.” In a joint letter to Gov. Ritter signed by the city of Rifle and the Garfield County commissioners, both entities voiced their opposition to the governor’s proposal to close the correctional facility.

“Closure at a time when our community is already feeling pinched from a reduction in energy development, construction and other economic sectors will likely mean additional job losses in our community and the region being thrust further into a downward spiral of economic recession,” the letter reads.

Republican Sen. Al White, who was recently elected to represent District 8, which includes Garfield County, spoke to the crowd via satellite transmission,

When asked whether the decision to close the RCC had already been made, White said he felt the idea was a “proposal” and not a “decision.”

Representatives from the Grand River Hospital District, the Rifle Senior Center and Rifle Senior Housing all spoke in favor of the inmate labor and how it helped them.

“The Rifle Correctional Center has helped keep us going,” said Carol Boyd, executive director of the Rifle Housing Authority. “In one month, they save us $16,000. We can’t do this on our own. You promoted this program, and we embraced it. Now you’re taking it away. What do we do?”

With applause from the audience, White and officials from the DOC admitted they needed to look for alternatives to closing the RCC.

The proposal to shut down the RCC is part of the governor’s request that each department cut their budgets by 10 percent to help offset the state’s $1 billion budget shortfall. According to DOC spokesperson Katherine Sanguinetti, closure of the Rifle facility would save about $600,000 in operational costs, plus generate around $5 million from the sale of the property.

The proposal will go to the Joint Budget Committee and then the General Assembly where it will be decided upon in the next few months.

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