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Lawmakers bow to private prison company cash woe claims

Aftermath of the inmate riot at the privately-owned - Crowley County Correctional Facility in southeast - Colorado last summer.
  • Aftermath of the inmate riot at the privately-owned Crowley County Correctional Facility in southeast Colorado last summer.

Out-of-state inmates will continue to be housed in Colorado's private prisons despite a report linking the practice to a riot last summer that involved as many as 300 prisoners.

State lawmakers have killed a bill that would have prevented private prisons from housing inmates from other states after representatives from the Corrections Corporation of America said the bill would negatively affect them.

"We would have been facing a situation where we would be forced to consolidate [prisons]," said Louise Chickering, a spokeswoman for the Tennessee-based company that operates four private prisons in Colorado.

She said company officials warned legislators that closing a facility would hurt the local tax base of a an unspecified rural county. The company oversees 2,500 inmates in Colorado -- roughly 300 of them are from out of state. Without those inmates, the company would scramble to fill beds, Chickering said.

Eight members of the House Judiciary Committee voted to indefinitely postpone House Bill 1212, including Rep. Richard Decker, a Republican from Fountain. As a result, the bill is dead.

"It was a disappointment," said Frank Smith, a field organizer with Private Corrections Institute, a group that opposes for-profit prisons. He fears the state is supporting a system that is too focused on placing offenders behind bars, many of them not convicted of violent crimes.

A report issued by state prison officials in the aftermath of the July 20 riot at Crowley County Correctional Facility in southeast Colorado found that disgruntled inmates transferred from Washington state contributed to the melee that left a control room, two cell houses and prison offices in shambles. Two inmates were seriously injured.

Rep. Buffie McFadyen, a Pueblo West Democrat, introduced the bill in hopes of improving safety for Colorado inmates. Smith said inmates might be more prone to resort to violence because they are incarcerated hundreds of miles away from their families and local support networks.

However, the Colorado Department of Corrections told lawmakers to vote against the bill. State auditors are looking at the role of private prisons in Colorado and the DOC will watch for recommendations about out-of-state inmates, said Alison Morgan, a DOC spokeswoman.

"We believe it is premature to make any policy changes," Morgan said.

Michael deYoanna

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