Rifle prison would be closed under budget cuts
Its small size, remote location and challenges in hiring and keeping staff led to a proposal Tuesday to close the Rifle Correctional Facility to help the state deal with a budget shortfall.
Gov. Bill Ritter made the proposal following a recommendation by the state Department of Corrections.
“This was a very difficult decision,” said state Director of Prisons Gary Golder, who joined Department of Corrections executive director Ari Zavaras in visiting the 192-bed facility to discuss the plans with staff.
Golder said the decision was made in response to a request by the Office of State Planning and Budget for all agencies to put together money-saving proposals. The state also is proposing closure of the Colorado Women’s Correctional Facility in Canon City.
The proposed closures are subject to review by the state Legislature.
The minimum-security Rifle facility is on 23 acres of land eight miles north of Rifle, near Rifle Gap Reservoir.
Golder said the state had to consider the cost of trying to maintain a small, remote facility, versus absorbing its inmates into larger minimum-security facilities. Hiring also has been a challenge in a region where many employers have struggled to find enough help.
However, state Sen. Al White, R-Hayden, whose Senate district includes the Rifle area, worries about the ability of the prison’s staff to find work at a time when the region’s primary economic driver, the oil and gas industry, is making cutbacks.
Golder said the prison’s 57 workers would have the option of transferring to other state facilities, but White questioned how many of them would want to leave the Rifle area.
“Those families are going to have some decisions to make, and that’s not going to be easy,” he said.
Golder said the state will save about $600,000 a year by housing the Rifle inmates elsewhere, and it will be able to make money by selling the prison property.
White sits on the Legislature’s Joint Budget Committee, which was informed of the proposed closure Tuesday. He said the state faces difficult budget challenges, but he wondered if it might make sense for the state to sell the Rifle prison to a private company that could operate it “and maintain the economic function within the community.”
Rifle Mayor Keith Lambert said the city hasn’t had time to analyze what impacts the closure could have.
“Certainly it’s a blow, but how it plays out for the community, we’re going to have to figure that out,” he said.