Closures a worry for prison center

Cañon City economy could take swan dive

CAÑON CITY – Officials in Cañon City – home to seven of Colorado’s 20 prisons – say they are concerned the local economy will take a hit if the state decides to close some of the facilities as part of a broader cut to the Department of Corrections budget.

The Pueblo Chieftain reported the Governor’s Office of State Planning and Budgeting is looking into the use of prisons and whether some should be closed. The study was initiated after the state prison population dropped by 1,573 inmates in fiscal year 2011-12. That population continues to decline.

“We still don’t know what the study is going to say – it could be not just one prison but multiples,” said state Sen. Kevin Grantham, a Cañon City Republican. “Of course, if we are talking multiples, that fixes the bull’s eye square on Fremont County.”

Cañon City already has lost two prisons – Colorado Women’s and Centennial South – to budget cuts in recent years, and the Department of Corrections is one of Fremont County’s largest employers.

“The prisons are a very critical part of our economy,” Cañon City Mayor Tony Greer said. “We depend on those correctional employees as a vital part of our community.”

But Grantham said the overall picture should be viewed as positive.

“The reason we have to close prisons is we are spending less on prisoners, and that’s a good thing. Recidivism is down, and the money is going to better things,” he said, though he acknowledged any closures would negatively affect the local economy.

Eric Brown, a spokesman for Gov. John Hickenlooper, said the study is in its early stages and eventually will allow the state’s decisions to be as informed as possible. The results are expected to be released June 30.