Legislature considers postponing prison opening amid budget worries

As state lawmakers wrestle with a $600 million budget shortfall this year alone, every program is on the table, including not opening a recently built prison.

Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, said the state could hold off on opening a recently completed maximum-security prison in Fremont County, dubbed “CSP II,” to save upwards of $40 million a year.

“That will be on the table,” Penry said.

Evan Dreyer, spokesman for the governor’s office, said even with the need for more prison beds in Colorado, every option must be considered during this recession.

“It’s a significant cost to staff a new prison or any new state facility,” Dreyer said.

The suggestion of not opening the 960-bed facility, however, drew the ire of one of the Legislature’s top advocates of expanding the number of publicly owned prison beds.

Rep. Buffie McFadyen, D-Pueblo West, said the thought of not opening CSP II is “dismally” disappointing.

McFadyen said without those beds, the state is risking “endangering public safety” by forcing lower-security prisons to house Colorado’s most dangerous prisoners.

One of the Joint Budget Committee’s senior members, however, said discussions of delaying the opening of CSP II are only preliminary at this point.

Rep. Jack Pommer, D-Boulder, said the idea has come up during preliminary budget-cuting discussions only.

Sen. Al White, R-Hayden, who also sits on the budget panel, said the governor is expected to present his first batch of budget cuts, which could include CSP II, during a Joint Budget Committee meeting Jan. 15.


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