Need for Rifle prison being evaluated

RIFLE — No decisions have been made about the future of state prisons in places including Rifle and Delta, officials are telling communities in a tour this week.

However, a reduction in the number of prison beds could occur if a downward trend in inmate numbers continues, the state’s budget director, Henry Sobanet, said Thursday during a Rifle visit by representatives from several state agencies.

The state operates a 192-bed, minimum-security facility outside Rifle. A larger prison is in Delta, where officials had a similar meeting earlier Thursday.

Rifle’s prison was targeted for closure in 2009, but then-Gov. Bill Ritter backed off the plan after hundreds of people turned out to object.

“I imagine it’s still a sore subject, and we’re well aware of that,” Sobanet said.

A study of prison needs is nearly complete. Sobanet said he expects officials will come up with a framework this summer and fall for dealing with the findings, and any decisions would likely be debated in the Legislature next spring.

He said the closure a few years ago of Fort Lyons prison may have been adequate to address the surplus in prison beds.

But participants at Thursday’s meeting made arguments for why Rifle’s prison should remain open. Among them were the roughly 50 local prison jobs at stake, the valuable labor that inmates provide to the Rifle Senior Center and Rifle city parks, and the importance of a prison-based firefighting crew.

“This (prison) is something that we definitely need for this community.” said state Sen. Randy Baumgardner.


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