Report: 1 in 29 in Colorado in criminal justice system
DENVER, Colorado ” The number of people behind bars or under supervision in Colorado has risen dramatically the last three decades, with one in 29 adults in the correctional system, according to a report released Monday.
The numbers are a reflection of a nationwide trend attributed to policy choices ” not a rise in crime ” that are locking up more people for longer periods of time, said The Pew Center on the States in Washington, D.C. The report says about 2.3 million people are incarcerated nationwide, and another 5.1 million are either in probation or parole. That means 1 in 31 adults are under correctional control, the report said.
Colorado ranks 15th in the nation for the number of people it has behind bars, on probation or parole, the report said. Georgia tops the list with 1 in 13 under correctional supervision and New Hampshire is last with 1 in 88.
The report’s findings were drawn from original research by The Pew Center and statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice, the federal Census, the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts and other sources.
Like most states, Colorado’s correctional population has risen at a daunting pace. The report notes that in 1982, only 1 in 102 adults were either incarcerated or under supervision. During that time, correctional system spending has become the fastest-growing segment of state budgets, Pew researchers said.
Nationwide, states spent $52 billion on their correctional systems, according to the report.
Pew researchers say the recession could give states “an important, perhaps unprecedented opportunity” to focus more spending on managing those on parole and probation, which is cheaper than locking them up.
In Colorado for instance, it costs $3.07 a day to supervise someone on probation, and $9.32 a day to supervise a parolee. In contrast, housing an inmate can cost anywhere from $61.86 to $91.90 per day depending on whether if it’s minimum or maximum security facility.
In addition to being cheaper, probation and parole can reduce recidivism, the report suggests.
“If we are really going to reduce recidivism and strengthen public safety, we need to put more effort in ensuring we are doing a good job in community supervision,” said Richard Jerome, project manager for the Public Safety Performance Project for the Pew Center.
But Colorado and other states spend more money to incarcerate people than to supervise them, despite the fact that more people are on parole or probation than behind bars. Colorado figures at the end of 2007 showed 38,273 people were incarcerated and 89,913 were on parole or probation. But the report said the state spent $596.4 million to incarcerate people, while spending $52.6 million on probation and $34.7 million on parole.
The question is not whether the money spent to keep the worst criminals locked up is justified, the report said, but why those costs have grown disproportionately compared with the costs of supervising lower-risk criminals when they’re released.
As corrections spending becomes a prime target for cuts in the bad economy, some officials in Colorado have been forced to rethink how they handle people who are arrested.
A few weeks ago, the Larimer County jail began accepting only the only the most serious offenders, and booking and releasing some who commit lower-level offenses such as burglaries and drug offenses.
The sheriff’s department took that step after its budget was slashed by $1.8 million and 18 employees were laid off.
Since the changes, Sherif Jim Alderden said the inmate population was recently at 420, down from the 460-inmate cap he set months ago. He said one benefit is that people arrested for low-level crimes have a chance to keep jobs they would’ve otherwise lost if they were jailed.
The new system has also forced a change of philosophy for Alderden, who said he’s spent more than three decades trying get as many “bad guys” locked up as possible.
“Now we’re spending most all our time trying to keep bad guys out of jail,” he said.