State plans to add beds, not close Rifle prison
Amid concern that the Rifle Correctional Center again might be targeted for closure for budget reasons, the Colorado Department of Corrections says plans are not just to keep it open, but to add some beds.
Local officials recently became concerned about the future of the minimum-security prison when they asked Gov. John Hickenlooper about rumors it was under consideration for closure, as it had been two years ago before the idea died among public outcry.
“He said nothing is off the table” for possibly being cut, Garfield County Commissioner John Martin said.
Hickenlooper’s comments came during a recent visit to the area to discuss economic development. County officials want to preserve some 55 jobs at the prison.
Contacted by the county, state Rep. Randy Baumgardner, R-Hot Sulphur Springs, said he immediately wrote a letter to Hickenlooper and members of the Legislature’s Joint Budget Committee. He said he told them that “because of the amount of money that they were going to save, which wasn’t going to be a great deal,” he objected to the facility being considered for closure.
He said the effort succeeded, at least for the short term.
“At this time we have no plans to close Rifle,” said Department of Corrections spokeswoman Katherine Sanguinetti.
Hickenlooper representative Megan Castle affirmed that position.
A budget proposal released in February showed the state plans for Rifle to share in a 122-bed expansion, with some of the beds going to facilities in Delta, Buena Vista and other prison locations. The proposal calls it “the most cost-effective method for expanding bed space in state facilities without building a new facility.”
Sanguinetti said Rifle would get 12 of the beds. It now has 192.
“The cost per day to operate these additional beds is $19.78 per day, or $32.91 less than the private prison bed rate of $52.69,” the proposal said.
Rooms at the prisons would be added by remodeling common-space areas, for an estimated up-front cost of about $1.17 million.
Baumgardner said he hopes adding beds will help secure the facility’s future, but he remains concerned about next year, when the state could face bigger budget cuts.
Mark Opstein, a Rifle pastor, said the prison plays an important role in helping inmates prepare for transition to life on the streets.
“I’ve talked to several people who’ve gone through that, and it’s almost a shock to the system to come out of even a medium-security prison,” he said.