Date: 10/02/2009

Department of Corrections


Votes: View--> Action Taken:

01:39 PM -- Department of Corrections

The commission reconvened.

Senator Heath introduced Mr. Aristedes Zavaras, the Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Corrections, who began the presentation before the commission. Mr. Zavaras introduced several staff members of the department that have expertise in corrections, its budget, and its operations, including Mr. Karl Spiecker, the Chief Financial Officer, Mr. Tim Hand, the Deputy Director of Operations for parole activities, Mr. Fred Sabus, the department's budget officer, and Ms. Joanie Shoemaker, the Director of Clinical Services.

01:45 PM

Mr. Zavaras began with an overview of the budget of the Department of Corrections. He explained that the annual budget of the department is approximately $750 million. The department has 23,000 inmates, 22 state facilities, and 5 private facilities. Mr. Zavaras said that the budget of the Department of Corrections is primarily driven by caseload. Likewise, the department does not control when inmates are removed from the correctional system, as these decisions are driven by parole policies and other considerations.

Mr. Zavaras explained that the department has an ongoing pilot project that is evaluating the individuals being released from parole. He continued, describing several parole guidelines and detailing certain requirements. The project, he stated, is in its preliminary stages, and the Colorado Parole Board will make the final determination about this program.

The second pilot program being undertaken by the department is a 180-day expedited release to parole, and it is evidenced-based. Mr. Zavaras stated the program allows the agency to put more money in re-entry programs and services. The goal, he said, is to reduce the recidivism of repeat offenders.

01:53 PM

Mr. Zavaras continued, stating that the agency will not know the overall impact of the two programs for some time. The primary focus of the Department of Corrections is always public safety, and he said that nothing should be done to compromise it. He explained that the recidivism rate is still important, and the rate of growth of inmate population has been decreasing over the past several years. He closed his opening remarks by explaining it is the goal of the department to allocate the right services with the right offender, which can reduce recidivism. These efforts can also reduce the department's budget and translates into less crime in the state.

01:59 PM

Representative Court asked Mr. Zavaras what percent of the current inmate population will be released from a correctional facility and return to society. He stated that 97 percent of these individuals exit the prison system and return to society. Representative Court stated that this emphasizes the importance of how the inmates are treated while in the correctional system. Mr. Zavaras further expressed that if the system does not address the behavior of these individuals while they are in prison, these individuals will likely repeat their criminal behavior.

02:03 PM

Mr. Zavaras continued responding to questions from the commission about the growth in caseload of the department and the inmate population. Mr Zavaras stated that approximately 10,000 inmates were released, and the net growth was about 15 inmates per month.

Mr. Spiecker, the Chief Financial Officer, also addressed commission questions about inmate growth in comparison to Colorado's population. The average length of stay for inmates, he said, was about 3.2 years, which equates to about 2.3 years for the female population and 4.3 years for the male population. The male population has increased and the female population has decreased, he stated. Mr. Zavaras explained that these numbers resemble the national average of the length of inmate incarceration.

02:09 PM

Representative Court stated that mandatory sentencing laws passed in the 1990s may have impacted the growth of the inmate population. Commission discussion ensued about inmate growth. Mr. Zavaras stated that the focus the department has placed on recidivism is having an impact. He also said it is hard to identify a particular factor driving population increases without examining a longer time frame. Colorado could experience periods in which population increases, and he said that crime typically increases during economic downturns.

02:11 PM

Mr. Karl Spiecker, the Chief Financial Officer, began an overview of the agency's budget. In the 1980s, the Department of Correction's budget was approximately 2 percent of General Fund appropriations and it now represents about 9 percent. Mr. Spiecker explained one driver of the budget is staffing needs. At present, the department's payroll is $1 million per day. He explained that in the last downturn, the Department of Corrections experienced cuts in personnel that have not been restored. The department lost about 588 individuals, including correctional staff, medical and drug rehabilitation counselors, and other professionals. This reduction represented about 10 percent of its staff.

The department, he said, does not have adequate staff to cover the posts and shifts for the department's correctional facilities. The department needs about 5.2 full-time equivalents (FTEs) for each post and tower. Likewise, every state prison bed is currently full. He also explained that new prisons have not been constructed since the late 1990s, and the department acquired a federal facility since that period. This has not been adequate to address the growth in the prison population during this period. The department's contracts with private correctional facilities, he said, have been helpful in reducing the need to request additional funding for Capital Construction, but these contracts do not meet all of the department's needs.

Mr. Spiecker also provided background information about the construction of a new prison that was authorized by the General Assembly in 2003. The facility is a high-custody prison but a lawsuit delayed its construction. While construction is now underway and is expected to be completed early next year, the current fiscal situation will affect the department's ability to utilize these prison beds. He explained the department will not have the $40 million dollars necessary to staff this facility.

02:18 PM

Mr. Spiecker continued by discussing the challenges the department faces in allocating the right resources and services for prison inmates. He stated that while the recidivism rate is 50 percent, he is surprised that the rate is this successful. The Colorado correctional system receives individuals that have failed in every other public system, including the school system and the juvenile justice system. To do the right thing for the state's citizens, the department must match the correct resources to the correct prisoners. The goal is to place a better individual before the parole board so that when these inmates are released, the public benefits. When prisoners are in correctional facilities, the public is safe. He said the department released about 10,000 prisoners in FY 2007-08.

Mr. Spiecker stated prison inmates need treatment for substance abuse and mental health. About 80 percent of prison inmates have drug issues, and 13 percent have mental health issues. He also explained that offenders have educational needs and require different types of therapy. He continued providing the commission members with treatments that are needed by the inmate population.

The department's needs are driven by caseload growth, he explained, over which it has no control. Likewise, if there is a smarter way to prevent people from entering the correctional system, allocating resources to effective approaches is good public policy. He explained that inmates need additional resources when they return to society, including employment skills, housing, and other community resources. He closed by discussing prison beds, stating that there are instances in the correctional system in which beds remain empty because the department does not have staff to operate the prison facility.

02:27 PM

Ms. Boigon raised questions about the prison population statistics and Denver's prison population. Mr. Zavaras explained that about 21 percent of the male population and 18 percent of the female population are from Denver County. Discussion continued about this and the rehabilitation of inmates. Mr. Zavaras also explained that there are 3 companies that incarcerate inmates for the department and provided background information about these companies. He explained that the private prisons are reimbursed $52.69 per day per inmate. Mr. Zavaras also discussed the age of the prison population.

02:36 PM

Senator Morse expressed his concerns about paroling prisoners with medical needs. Mr. Zavaras said that some inmates have insurance and other resources, but in addition, many qualify for Medicaid, Medicare, or other benefits. The department faces challenges in helping these individuals and they must exit prison on their release date. Senator Morse also asked the panel about cost savings the department is pursuing and whether private prison contracts give the agency additional flexibility. Mr. Zavaras stated that none of the contracts have any bed guarantees because the department does not want to pay for beds not in use. In addition, he stated that the department screens every out-of-state prisoner that comes into the correctional system.

Senator Morse also asked about the aging of the prison population and Mr. Zavaras explained that it is aging. With older inmates, the department has additional health care needs, he stated.

02:45 PM

Discussion continued about the medical needs and age of the inmate population. The average age of an inmate is 35 years old, Mr. Spiecker explained.

02:47 PM

Mr. Coors asked about the costs of the department's programs. Mr. Spiecker began by discussing the staffing levels of the department. He estimates the department needs about 344 additional staff (FTEs) and $17.2 million to meet their staffing needs. This does not include staff for prisons scheduled to be opened, but only for existing facilities. He explained that the department needs $40 million dollars to staff the new facility discussed earlier.

The commission also discussed the Denver Reception and Diagnostic Center (DRDC). Ms. Joanie Schoemaker provided background information about the expansion of this facility. The department expanded three areas, including the facilities for receiving inmates when they first enter the correctional system. In addition, the department expanded the number of infirmary beds and the number of housing beds, she explained.

02:55 PM

Mr. Spiecker continued the presentation by discussing the educational needs of inmates. He explained that 5,200 inmates need a General Equivalency Diploma (GED), which would cost $31 million and about 48 FTEs. The department also needs $1.9 million and 21 FTEs for vocational education. He also said that the department has organized their current budget documents by program to make them more transparent. Mr. Coors asked whether these programs are voluntary or mandatory. Ms. Shoemaker explained that the agency's first priority is to ensure inmates have a GED, and that participation in the programs is voluntary.

02:59 PM

The commission recessed.

03:10 PM

The commission reconvened.

03:11 PM

Mr. Spiecker continued discussing the Department of Corrections staff and budgetary needs. He stated the department needs approximately $4 million for educational needs. Senator Health asked about the recidivism rate in Colorado and how it compares to other states. Mr. Spiecker explained that different states measure this rate differently. In Colorado, the recidivism rate is measured by the number of prisoners who return to prison within a three-year period, he said. Senator Heath expressed his views about this issue and stated the reasons to invest in education are to increase the chances that these individuals will not return to prison. Mr. Spiecker explained that the agency also needs to keep the inmate population busy while they are incarcerated. Commission discussion ensued about the return on investment for educational spending.

Mr. Tim Hand, Operations Director, explained that educational programs have an impact because employability is increased when inmates return to society. Discussion continued about recidivism rates. Mr. Spiecker also provided the commission with background information about therapeutic communities. He stated that the department does not have adequate data on many of its programs.

03:22 PM

The commission discussed substance abuse treatment and programs for women. Ms. Boigon expressed her thoughts about the importance of these programs.

03:24 PM

Mr. Spiecker continued the presentation by discussing the substance abuse treatment for offenders. A total of 4,000 offenders need this treatment, and about 800 receive it, he explained. Approximately 3,157 inmates need these services. The cost is about $15.7 million and 277.5 FTEs. Likewise, about 6,200 individuals are waiting for out-patient treatment.

03:29 PM

Mr. Spiecker continued his presentation by discussing sentencing. He outlined several considerations, including the decisions of the judicial system and sentencing reform. If there are significant policy changes in these areas, they can have the effect of reducing or increasing the department's costs and budget.

Mr. Spiecker stated that additional programs needed by the Department of Corrections includes treatment for sex offenders. About 25 percent of the inmate population are sex offenders, and 7 percent have been sentenced under the Lifetime Sex Offender Supervision Act. The current level of funding for sex offender treatment is $2.9 million. Based on the offenders currently in the system that need this treatment, the department would need about $3.1 million and 51.4 FTEs to meet this need.

Discussion ensued about the success of sex offender treatment. Ms. Boigon asked about the successes of this treatment on changing behavior. Ms. Shoemaker returned to the table and explained there have been several studies done, and that the longer the treatment the more successful it is. Ms. Shoemaker explained that a study conducted in 2003 in Colorado has good data about the results of this type of treatment.

03:37 PM

The discussion moved to mental health services needed for prison inmates. Mr. Spiecker explained that approximately 18 percent of inmates have severe mental health issues. A capital construction project costing $753 million, which would add 250 beds, would assist in meeting this need. The net operating cost is about $8 million in cost and 196 FTEs.

The costs of a private prison bed is about $52 per inmate per day, while the cost of a state bed is $77.98 per inmate per day. Commission discussion ensued about this issue and how to realize potential savings. Mr. Spiecker stated that the department has closed two correctional facilities in the past year to save costs. One facility was both aging and high-cost. It was strategically a good decision, he said, and the facility was closed without laying off any state employees.

03:48 PM

Senator Brophy continued asking the panel about how the state could reduce the state's $77 dollar per day cost. Arizona, he said, is cheaper, and there may be an opportunity to save additional costs. Senator Morse expressed his thoughts about increasing the number of private prisons and marginal costs.

Mr. Coors also discussed results from the 2003 study on sex offenders, treatment, and the success of these programs.

03:55 PM

Representative Court raised questions about the definition of a sexual offender in the Department of Corrections. Ms. Shoemaker explained the ratings system for these offenders and state law.

03:56 PM

Mr. Spiecker discussed the number of parole officers and caseload demands in this area. Because of the budget shortfall, correctional officers currently have higher caseloads than they have managed historically. To restore the caseload to historical averages, the department would need $6.1 million and 89.5 FTEs. Parole officers handle about 60 offenders each on average, and 20 offenders each for inmates with intensive needs. Senator Heath asked whether this increase has had negative consequences, and Mr. Hand answered that it has.

Mr. Spiecker also explained that the department has 6.5 million square feet in facilities to maintain existing prisons. This underscores the need for controlled maintenance funding for these facilities, he said. The department spends about $24.4 million annually on the routine maintenance of these buildings, and has requested $7.2 million for controlled maintenance to maintain existing prisons. Ms. Oliver Cooke asked whether this includes de-commissioned prisons, and Mr. Spiecker answered that it does. Discussion ensued about these facilities and the income-generating opportunities they bring to the state. The commission members also discussed the $7.2 million request for controlled maintenance.

Mr. Spiecker testified that the department needs to be able to compensate its employees. In addition, the department needs to be able to compensate private prisons at a competitive rate. This is an important part of the department's future.

The ideal level of funding, Senator Heath pointed out, would increase the department's funding by $118.7 million, for a total of $788.7 million. Discussion ensued as to whether there is a middle number. Mr. Spiecker explained that there are multiple ways to arrive at this point. Senator Heath thanked the corrections panel for their time.

04:09 PM -- Discussion on Proposing Bills and Closing Comments

Senator Heath discussed the upcoming meetings on October 14 and 15 and the agendas for these meetings. Senator Heath also discussed recommending legislation as a commission.

04:11 PM

Ms. Esther van Mourik, Office of Legislative Legal Services (OLLS), came to the table to discuss the process for recommending legislation. In order for a bill to have the Fiscal Stability Commission's name on its front, it must be approved by the Legislative Council at its November 10 meeting. The mail date to the Legislative Council members is November 6. The commission will need to approve such final bills on November 4 or 5.

She explained that the time frame makes it difficult to make changes to final bills before recommending them to the Legislative Council. She suggested that if bill requests are made by October 15, the commission could have an up or down vote on November 4 or 5. Bills must be approved by a majority vote of the legislative commission members. The other possibility is for legislative members of the commission to individually make bill requests as soon as possible. This would count toward the five bill limit for legislators unless the legislative leadership grants a waiver of this rule. However, in order for legislation to be a commission bill, it needs to be voted on by November 5.

04:16 PM

Mr. Coors asked whether nonvoting members could do a nonbinding consensus vote on the bills, and Senator Heath answered yes. In order for it to be passed by the commission, however, it has to be passed by majority of the legislative members. Interim commission bills do not count against any individual legislative member's five bill limit.

04:17 PM

Ms. van Mourik also said that the commission could be included in potential drafts. This must be approved by the individual member, and it takes away confidentiality of bill requests, she explained. Mr. Knox asked about the final report, and Senator Heath explained the process. There could be recommendations in the final report and not in the legislation, Senator Heath explained.

Representative Court requested that Legislative Council Staff make a document showing the funding levels for the major areas of General Fund appropriations, including the current level of funding, a middle number, and the best or ideal number.

04:20 PM

The commission adjourned.