Thursday, March 17, 2011

Fort Lyon prison gets a 6 month reprieve

A six-month stay on the pending closure of a prison in Bent County was granted today by Joint Budget Committee members—shortly before the Department of Corrections asked for money to reopen another closed facility, for an international correctional training program. That proposal failed after a tie-vote, in a party line split. The panel consists of three Democrats and three Republicans.

“It makes me angry that they wanted to open a new facility while trying to close down another one,” said Rep. Jon Becker, a committee Republican from Fort Morgan.

The Corrections Department is proposing to close Bent County’s Fort Lyon prison in southeastern Colorado. An estimated 200 jobs will be lost as a result of the closure, sending the local economy into a tailspin, say local officials there. In deference to their concerns, and after intervention by Becker, the closure will occur March 1 next year rather than this Sept. 1. Bent County commissioners say they are appreciative of the delay but still question the decision to close the facility at all.

“This is a result of bad decision making on the part of the department. I question the management of the DOC,” said Bent County Commissioner Bill Long. “They had an opportunity, with a free facility, and didn’t take advantage of it very long.” The facility was sold to the state by the federal government for use as a state prison for the sum of $1 in 2001.

Becker maintains that the decision should have taken more into consideration especially when the department is asking to reopen another facility.

“It’s going to devastate that community,” said Becker. “If we’re going to have the discussion about closing prisons then let’s look at all of them.”

Rep. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, says the ensuing discussion should be larger than just DOC’s requests. Gardner says the prison closure is the right thing to do given the recent trends in declining recidivism rates—dictating less need for prison beds throughout the state. However, says Gardner, a more systemic approach is warranted that encompasses evaluating the scope of government.

“The reality is that we just have too much government,” said Gardner. “Sometimes the most efficient thing is to shut something down, even if people will be impacted in the short term. The role of prison is not one of an economic development tool for a community.”

Yet, Democratic Rep. Wes Mckinley, of Walsh, said he believes that the decision by the department was the wrong one.

“Our budget is sick and it will remain so if we keep doing stupid things,” said McKinley. “I want the DOC to listen to the employees and take heed of where true efficiencies could be found instead of just closing down a facility—not necessarily the smartest thing they could have done.”

Via – Colorado News Agency

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