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A Small Victory

W. Scott Cole

Posted on January 14, 2020 14:35

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But maybe the beginning of a larger one. One of Colorado’s three private prisons is closing. The others may be following soon. Here is why that's a good move.

The GEO Group, the owner of the Cheyenne Mountain Re-Entry Center private prison in Colorado Springs, announced that it will close the prison on March 7. It houses 650 inmates, for whom the Colorado Department of Corrections will have to find a new lock-up.  It shouldn’t be a problem.

There were approximately 3,800 inmates in private prisons in 2018 (according to the latest available figures). The private prison industry will tell you that they are a less costly alternative to housing those inmates, and at first blush, that is true.

It costs $68 a day to keep an inmate in a private prison and it costs $108 per day in state prisons, a $40 a day difference. The difference is actually much less. That $108 figure is an average of all prisons in Colorado, at all security levels (Levels 1 – 5, with 5 being the highest security). The law in Colorado requires that nobody with a 3 or higher security level is allowed to be housed in a private prison. The average daily cost to keep Level 1 to Level 3 inmates in prison is $89 a day.

So where does that $21 a day savings come from? The starting wage for a guard in a state prison is $19.80 per hour, compared to a starting wage of about $16.50 per hour in a private prison. In addition, private prisons are notorious for being understaffed, serving food that is even worse than state prison food (which is already terrible), and having support services (rehabilitation programs, medical, dental, etc.) that are inferior to the state prison support services, which takes some doing. Seems the savings disappear.

So… where to put 650 inmates after March 7? It is estimated that more than 80 will be released on parole before that day. That lowers the needed beds to 570. There are about 350 empty beds currently in state facilities. The number has now fallen to 420. It’s really not hard to find those empty beds.

Believe it or not, the State of Colorado has a brand new (as far as buildings go) 948-bed prison that has been completely empty for eight years. You read that right. Brand new. It was completed in 2010 and closed in 2012. It has been empty since, with the state paying maintenance and upkeep costs to keep it habitable for eight years. It was built to be a maximum-security prison for solitary confinement inmates and closed when the DOC decided to end long term solitary confinement. Modifications have already been made so it can house lower security inmates and it still sits empty. It could hold 420 inmates and still have room for 528 more.

The cells are all single bunk. All other state prison cells, except punitive segregation, are double bunk cells, which means capacity can cheaply and easily be doubled… and there is room for another private prison to be closed.

W. Scott Cole

Posted on January 14, 2020 14:35

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Source: Denver Post

Colorado lawmakers on Friday listened as state officials offered proposals and previewed bills that would tackle criminal...

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