Smaller Colo. prison population predicted
DENVER – State researchers say Colorado’s prison population is growing slower than expected.
Researchers estimated in 2006 that prisons would be holding nearly 30,000 inmates by 2013, but a new study estimates there will be about 8,000 fewer inmates by then.
The lower population could save the state at least $160 million in 2013 alone. Gov. Bill Ritter says the state is already reaping the benefits of slower prison population growth. Ritter’s deficit-cutting proposals in February included $19.4 million savings on corrections costs.
Each Colorado prisoner costs the state about $20,000 per year.
Researchers also say crime has not grown with the economic crisis, as it did in previous recessions, and overall Colorado’s crime rate has been falling in recent years.
Researchers attribute the decrease to Colorado’s aging population. Men ages 19 to 39 commit the largest number of crimes, and growth in the age group has slowed in Colorado.
The female prison population has dropped even more quickly, prompting the state to close the Colorado Women’s Correctional Facility in Canon City in 2009.
The aging population poses new and different challenges for the prison system, though, requiring new kinds of detention facilities.
Ritter says the new estimate shows “we’re doing a lot of things right.” Researchers say drug courts, mental health care and better parole programs to prevent recidivism have helped.
As a former Denver prosecutor, Ritter said said he has watched the number of state prisoners balloon from 3,000 when he began his career in 1981 to beyond 20,000. He said that putting more violent criminals away in the 1980s and ’90s also improved crime rates and community stability.
Prison populations are falling across the country, too. Nationally, state prisons held nearly 6 percent fewer people on Jan. 1 than the year before.
Corrections and budget officials are still assessing whether this is a short blip or a lasting trend, both in Colorado and nationwide.
Information from: The Denver Post, http://www.denverpost.com