While the state budget hangs in limbo, and the special session looms, Colorado lawmakers are desperately seeking solutions to this crisis. With the defeat yesterday of the bills that would have forced Pinnacol to transfer $500 million to the state to fund higher education and balance the budget, Sen. Morgan Carroll (D-29) offers a sensible solution via her blog:
We are currently spending twice as much on corrections as higher education and it is now the 3 largest item in our budget and growing. Most other states have taken similar moves as an effort to be evidence-based, smarter on crime and smarter with spending taxpayer money. Colorado can’t afford NOT to consider sentencing reform.
Here are some facts to consider:
- It costs $30,386 per inmate per year in operating costs and $150,773 per year per inmate for capital construction.
- 74% of our prison population is in for non-violent offenses.
- The Department of Corrections has become the single largest “mental health care provider” in the State of Colorado
- Probation costs $3.42 per day to supervise whereas prison costs $78.95 per day to supervise
- 1 in 29 Colorado residents are now under correctional control. (That figure was 1 in 102 in 1982) [rsb emphasis]
- At the current rate of incarceration we would need to build a new prison every year.
- For the cost of incarcerating 1 inmate we could:
o Educate 5 children in K12;
o Fund tuition for 10 students in higher education;
o Pay the health insurance premiums for 3 families a year;
o Fund 6 Medicaid enrollees for health care.
These facts speak for themselves: Colorado’s prison system is broken, and fixing it could be the solution to the current budget crisis we’re facing. More after the fold.
Though the facts dictate that we must do something to address this massive problem, many at the Capitol are wary of approaching this issue for fear of being seen as “soft on crime”. Dick Wadhams is undoubtedly drooling at the mouth to characterize Democratic incumbents as just that. The problems, however, outweigh the political repercussions. As Carroll notes:
What’s more is that we have research that demonstrates that we are no longer getting any public safety returns at the level we are spending. If fact, there is a significant body of research demonstrating that the funds can be better spent in ways that not only improve public safety and reduce recidivism but also save us money.
We can no longer afford to waste money on things that don’t work and we need to prioritize our money on incarcerating people who are a true threat to society.
While this may not be a magic wand that can fix every single gap in the budget, it does a lot more than 3% cuts across the board. If Josh Penry and the Senate Republicans truly care about fixing this crisis, then they won’t use it as a political football. Those of us familiar with their track record, however, know they probably will. If that does happen, then the Democrats need to resist the temptation for political expediency.
All they have to do is look at the facts, and present them in the same way Morgan Carroll has. It’s time for leadership on the budget crisis–even in the face of certain right wing fear-mongering.