Prison Reforms: An Upside to the State's Budget Crisis

January 3 2011, 2:00 PM

During Colorado's get-tough-on-crime years, between 1993 and 2009, the prison population more than doubled, from 9,200 inmates to 23,000. But for the first time in years, in 2010 the prison population actually declined, to 22,860 as of last June, notes The Associated Press. That number is expected to drop again, to about 21,000, come this June. The downward trend is expected to continue thanks to anticipated state prison reforms driven by a desire to reduce the state budget, including the costs of prison, which now stand at an estimated $30,000 per inmate per year.

As The Aurora Sentinel writes in an editorial: "The problem is that the state has been incarcerating drug addicts, alcoholics, the mentally ill, and petty criminals, turning them into lifelong residents of the state's prison systems at exorbitant taxpayer expense. Almost half of these men and women are imprisoned because of drug habits, alcoholism, conspiracy, or other nonviolent offenses." The newspaper argues that treating people for their problems is less costly and urges state lawmakers to continue the criminal-justice reforms they began last year in order to save money. Meanwhile, The Denver Post checks in on a prison program in which inmates work to harvest fish raised without hormones for a business that sells thousands of pounds of fish to Whole Foods Market.