Rifle Correctional Center closing could have big repercussions | PostIndependent.com

Rifle Correctional Center closing could have big repercussions

Heidi Rice
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Kelley Cox Post Independent

RIFLE, Colorado ” Technically, they’re criminals. But in reality, many of the inmates provide vital services and free labor to local agencies and will be sorely missed if the Rifle Correctional Center is shut down.

Gov. Bill Ritter announced Tuesday afternoon his proposal to close the RCC as part of a plan to offset the state’s upcoming $1 billion budget deficit.

If passed, the measure would mean 190 inmates at the RCC will be transferred to other prisons around the state. However, the proposal goes through the Joint Budget Committee and the Legislature before a firm decision is made.

The loss of the RCC would mean local agencies and government departments who use prison labor will not have the help.

Garfield County Community Corrections, a 60-bed facility located on Airport Road in south Rifle would be one of them.

“We contract with the Rifle Correctional Center to provide our inmates with three meals a day ” 50,000 meals per year,” said Rodney Hollandsworth, director of criminal justice services. If the RCC is closed, the Garfield County facility will likely have to send out a request for proposals to contract with either a local school district, hospital or restaurant.

The Garfield County Community Corrections facility, which opened in May 2007, budgeted $171,000 in 2008 for food service from the RCC at $3.25 per meal.

“They fixed the meals and delivered them,” said Dale Hancock, the county director of general services. “(Community corrections) is now going to have to arrange for another vendor, or we’re going to have to put in a full-service kitchen.”

The city of Rifle’s parks department also uses RCC inmate labor to help out and says if Ritter’s proposal is approved, it will miss the help.

According to parks director Tom Whitmore, two to three crews of about six, did a lot of hand labor for the city, including trimming bushes, shoveling snow and raking ball fields.

“(This proposal) is not a good thing from our perspective,” Whitmore said. “(The RCC) has really saved us a lot of money over the years by using these guys.”

Along with the parks, the inmate crews help out in other city departments, and Whitmore estimates the city saves between $75,000 and $100,000 per year in labor costs.

“We’ve always had a pretty good partnership with the RCC ” we’ve appreciated the work that we’ve gotten,” Whitmore said.

The Burning Mountains Fire Protection District has depended heavily on the State Wildland Inmate Fire Team (SWIFT) crews, which provide hand labor assistance in fighting wildfires in the area. Crew members must be qualified, tested and trained before being allowed to join.

“They’ve been a wonderful asset, and it’s really a bad thing that (this closure) is about to happen,” said Brit McLin, fire chief for the district, which use the crews, especially during the wildfire season. “Obviously, this will have a significant impact on some of us who utilize the services of the … (SWIFT) crew.”

According to Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario, the DOC said it would keep two of the three SWIFT teams intact and relocate them to a correctional facility in Delta and could still respond to Garfield County.

“I guess that’s better than nothing,” McLin said.

Habitat for Humanity also used inmate labor to build the first homes in Rifle in the fall of 2008.

Other local agencies that have used inmates from the RCC include the Rifle Fish Hatchery, the Rifle Animal Shelter, the Garfield County Landfill and the Division of Wildlife.

A final decision on the governor’s proposal is expected to be made by April.

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