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Senators unanimous in support for reopening empty prison in emergencies

Posted at 6:58 PM, Apr 29, 2019

DENVER – After sitting empty for years, the Colorado State Penitentiary II in Canon City could soon hold inmates. The State Senate gave unanimous approval Saturday to a bi-partisan bill that authorizes the Department of Corrections to reopen the shuttered facility in emergencies.

Senate Bill 259 permits the DOC to transfer up to 126 inmates to the maximum security facility when the number of available beds in the rest of the prison system drops below one percent of capacity, or approximately 145 beds. As of Monday, there were 54 beds available.

CSP II was built nearly a decade ago with an estimated capacity of 950 inmates. It was designed to hold high-risk offenders in solitary confinement for up to 23 hours per day. In 2012, state lawmakers passed a bill that eliminated the use of solitary confinement. The prison was promptly closed and has remained empty.

“Obviously, I feel on behalf of the taxpayers we’ve paid for this facility that we’ve never utilized,” said Senate President Leroy Garcia, (D) Pueblo. “I understand that there was a different use for it then, but we’ve continued to make investments just to keep it functional.”

Garcia co-sponsored Bill 259 with Sen. Dennis Hisey, (R) El Paso County. He also worked with the Governor’s Office, The Colorado Department of Corrections and key stakeholders in the community in drafting the legislation. Garcia said he hopes to only use the facility as a backup.

“You build for contingencies when there are emergencies,’ Garcia explained. “You can never act like there will never be an emergency. You have to plan as though there might be one.”

The legislation is not permanent, the bill expires in 2021. The Department of Corrections must also notify members of the Judiciary and Joint Budget Committees with five days of using the facility and then provide lawmakers with updates every 30 days while inmates are kept there.

“There are some safeguards in there which is why you see a lot of collaboration, and a lot of support for this initiative,” Garcia said.

Legislative Council Staff estimated it will cost $108 per inmate per day to operate the facility or $13,705 per day for all 126 inmates.

Senator Garcia pointed out the bill is part of a package of legislation intended to address corrections issues. Other bills in that package aim to reduce recidivism and lower the overall prison population.