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Legislators donít want state to pay riot costs

By Karen Vigil
The Pueblo Chieftain

Several elected officials said Thursday they don't want the state to pay for the backup staff of state and local law officers that brought the Tuesday night Crowley County prison riot under control.

Sen. Abel D. Tapia, D-Pueblo, said he and Democratic Reps. Dorothy Butcher and Buffie McFadyen agree that the state should not have to pay for helping the private prison's owner/manager, Corrections Corp. of America (CCA).

"The one thing that we want to get to the bottom of is, who is going to be paying for all of this. I don't expect the state to be responsible for that," Tapia said.

If the state is asked to pay the tab, Tapia said he will carry legislation against it.

Butcher said she also is gathering information about prison populations to determine whether Colorado taxpayers are subsidizing private prisons' housing of out-of-state inmates, while the needs of citizens like meals for the elderly go begging.

"Something is wrong when 25 percent of the population is from out of state and the prison was built to benefit Colorado . . . I want to know how many prisoners from other states and I want to know how many are in public and private prisons," Butcher said.

And at a press conference Thursday afternoon, nationally known prison reform advocates presented a long list of charges against the private prison industry, CCA and Gov. Bill Owens.

Frank Smith of Kansas and Brian Dawe of Wyoming said they also were meeting Thursday night with Lamar residents who oppose a private prison planning to locate there.

Smith, who said he has gathered information about the Crowley County prison situation for several months, and Dawe, executive director of Corrections USA, a nonprofit association run by correctional officers, offered passionate arguments against privatization of prisons.

They said the Crowley County prison riot threatened lives of private prison staffers, law officers and inmates while millions of dollars of property damage occurred.

Smith said the private prison industry has not been held accountable for its financial costs, staffing or service quality, and taxpayers pick up the tab and absorb the risk when riots and escapes occur.

Dawe said, "They say they're better. Yet, they won't open their books. If I was better, I wouldn't be afraid to open my books."

Both men said the Crowley riot occurred partly because of the private prison industry's widespread climate of poor training, wages and standards, a lack of staff mentoring due to a high turnover rate, and the fact that shareholder profits are put before public and inmate safety.

Dawe said Gov. Owens, who has promoted private prisons during his tenure, is jeopardizing Coloradans' lives.

"If Gov. Owens is intent on incarcerating as many people as he is, then he ought to be paying for them," he said.

Both offered other statistics showing the downsides of private prisons, claiming they are vastly more violent and have more escapes than public prisons, and have a chilling effect on other industries locating nearby.

Dawe said private prison officials say land values increase when one of their facilities opens, but he finds that laughable.

"When you're looking for a house, is one of the questions you ask is, "Is there a prison nearby?' Ē he asked.

McFadyen, who attended the Smith-Dawe news conference, noted that she made some of the same valid points in response to the riot.

She said her attempt to require the state to tell the actual state cost of housing prisoners at private prisons was rejected during the last term of the Legislature. She has not been able to find out the costs, beyond the per diem rate paid to private prisons, and still wants to know the state's cost for medical care for inmates, transportation, escapes, riot control, case management and some training of private prison staff.

By law, she said, legislators are required to know that privatization of public services is saving money before such contracts are allowed.

McFadyen added that she believes the "supposed cost savings is being put ahead of the public's safety."

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