Rifle prison’s future subject of June 13 meeting
Citizen Telegram Editor
The future of the Rifle Correctional Center could see the facility used in several possible different ways, according to Colorado’s budget director.
What local residents and officials think about any changes at the 192-bed facility is what Henry Sobanet and other state officials want to hear when they hold a public meeting at 1 p.m. Thursday, June 13, in the Colorado Mountain College auditorium, 3695 Airport Road. It is one of several scheduled around Colorado, in communities were prison facilities are located.
“We’ve seen our prisoner numbers drop by about 2,000 inmates since 2009,” Sobanet said of the statewide trend. “Right now, we’re probably about 1,000 beds in excess of what we feel we need.”
The meetings will focus on the state’s plan to best utilize state prisons and help communities that may be adversely affected by changes in how prisons are used or even closed, Sobanet said.
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Last year, Colorado lawmakers commissioned a prison utilization study that identifies the most appropriate and cost-effective uses of the available public and private inmate beds. The Office of State Planning and Budgeting will work with the Legislature’s Joint Budget Committee to develop the plan, which is scheduled to be finished by the end of June, said Sobanet.
It isn’t the first time changes, or even closure, has been considered for the Rifle Correctional Center.
Former Gov. Bill Ritter proposed closing the facility in January 2009 as part of a plan for each state department to cut their budgets by 10 percent to help offset a then-$1 billion budget shortfall. Then, the closure would have cost 57 local jobs.
At the time, officials said selling the facility, land and water rights would have generated $5 million in revenue and produced an annual savings of $600,000.
However, Rifle officials and residents – some 300 people came to a public meeting in Rifle to show and voice their support for the facility – asked then-state Sen. Al White, R-Hayden, who sat on the Joint Budget Committee, to oppose the measure, which he did. Ritter announced in late February 2009 that the center would remain open.
This time, Sobanet said cost savings will be an issue, but not the only one, in deciding how to use the center in the coming years.
“Cost savings is a goal, but there’s also inmate safety, the age of the facility, impacts to the workforce and the community,” he said.
The Rifle Correctional Center, 0200 County Road 219, is a 192-bed, minimum security prison located on a 73-acre site, eight miles from Rifle and near Rifle Gap Reservoir. It opened as a satellite labor camp in the late 1960s.
Inmates, many of whom are finishing their prison sentences prior to release, participate in a variety of programs, including secondary education, vocational training and a reintegration program to help reduce recidivism, according to the state Department of Corrections website.
Inmates from the Rifle facility have provided labor and savings for agencies like the Rifle Housing Authority, Habitat for Humanity, Rifle Senior Center and Grand River Hospital.
A firefighting team also operates out of the Rifle center, and Garfield County has used the center’s kitchen services to provide meals for its community corrections facility off Airport Road in Rifle.
The 90-minute meeting will include time for questions and discussion with the audience.
Along with Rifle, meetings were scheduled between June 10-14 in Sterling, Burlington, Limon, Colorado Springs, Crowley, Las Animas, Trinidad, Pueblo, Canon City, Buena Vista, Delta and Hudson.
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