Garfield Commission opposes prison closure

Garfield County officials worry about job losses if Rifle facility is closed

GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Garfield County commissioners have come out in opposition to a proposal to close the Rifle Correctional Facility.

Commissioners acted this week after Rifle city manager John Hier asked if they planned to take a position. Hier said the Rifle City Council is expected to consider the matter at its meeting tonight.

County Commissioner John Martin said he’s worried about the jobs that would be lost locally as a result of the closure. State prison officials say the prison’s 57 workers would have the option of transferring to other state facilities.

The closure also would end work done by inmates in area communities. A wildland firefighting crew of inmates also is based at the prison.

Meanwhile, the closure would leave the county in need of finding another means of feeding inmates at the county’s community corrections facility. The county pays the prison $3.25 per meal to provide food for its site.

The state Department of Corrections proposed closing the Rifle site and a women’s facility in Canon City last week after Gov. Bill Ritter asked state agencies to come up with budget-cutting measures.

The Rifle closure is scheduled for May 31, but closure of the sites is subject to legislative review.

One factor in the proposed Rifle closure is the cost of maintaining a small, remote prison of 192 beds, versus absorbing inmates into larger minimum-security prisons.

Martin wonders whether the proposal could revive discussions about expanding the Rifle location. In the 1990s, the state had sought to expand the site to 444 beds, said longtime county official Dale Hancock. Instead, the state settled on a smaller expansion because of local opposition.

Department of Corrections spokeswoman Katherine Sanguinetti said there’s been no talk about expanding rather than closing the site.

Paul Embrey, who lives on County Road 252 near the prison, said the expansion that did occur has meant more traffic on his rural road. He said there’s been a long-running problem of speeding by guards heading to and from work.

But while he’s glad from a traffic standpoint to hear of the proposed closure, he said he’s sorry people might lose their Rifle jobs.

The Department of Corrections is planning to hold a public meeting in Rifle on the proposed closure Feb. 10, at a location that has yet to be determined.


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