Wednesday, April 4, 2012

If You Build It...

In what is looking to become a trend, traditionally prison-lovin' Colorado is joining the list of states shutting down their slammers.  The Los Angeles Times covers the story:

Sometimes if you build it, they don't come.
When construction was first planned in 2003 for a $184-million high-security facility within the Colorado prison complex in Canon City, the number of inmates being locked up in the state was increasing at what officials considered an alarming rate.
But something happened between the first shovelful of dirt in 2007 and the final paintbrush stroke in 2010: The Colorado prison population started decreasing, first a little and then a lot.
So much, in fact, that officials announced in March that the new facility — open just 18 months and two-thirds empty — would close next year.
The 316-bed prison, called Colorado State Penitentiary II, is the fourth correctional facility in Colorado ordered closed in the last three years because of a dwindling prison population. At its peak in July 2009, the state's inmate population was 23,220. As of February, it had dropped to 21,562. A decrease of 900 more inmates is expected by June 2013. ...
In some states, decades of get-tough sentencing have given way to alternatives to prison. They include probation and parole, mandatory drug treatment, mental health care and community supervision such as halfway houses, GPS ankle bracelets and regular drug testing.
A big part of reforming mandatory minimum sentencing laws is moving away from this notion that prison is the only solution to crime.  There are lots of cost-effective alternatives to incarceration -- we just need to ensure that judges have the full arsenal of options available to them.  Mandatory minimum prison sentences don't just deny judges smarter options, they also require judges to use more of a bad option in cases where more isn't necessary or helpful.