The number of inmates behind bars in Colorado prisons is dropping according to a study presented by the Office of State Planning and Budgeting. However, El Paso County's Undersheriff said that isn't the case in El Paso County's jail system.
The study said the number of inmates in Colorado's prison system peaked in 2009. Since then, the number of inmates behind bars has steadily declined. In 2009, the total jurisdictional population was 23,186. In April 2012, the total jurisdictional population was 20,087.
The study evaluated factors contributing to the decline in numbers. It found state crime rates are dropping and the number of felony filings has dropped significantly over the past decade.
It said fewer offenders are entering prison because of diversion and treatment programs. It cited an There is an increase in the state's parolee population. Also, prison terms are decreasing because of legislation enacted that allows offenders to earn time off for their sentence.
There has been a reclassification effort that started February 2013 to revalidate offender classification levels. It also pointed to administration segregation.
El Paso County's Undersheriff Paula Presley attended the study's presentation and said it's a different story in El Paso County.
"I'm skeptical of the reason that the inmate population is going down," said Presley.
She thinks the number of people committing crimes isn't going down. Instead, displaced criminals wind up in El Paso County's Criminal Justice Center. The county used to average 100 parolees at CJC daily. Yesterday, she said 131 parolees were sitting behind bars at CJC. She said on average, there are 120-130 parolees at CJC on a given day.
"The average length of stay so far [for parolees] is nearly 70 days. Where as, our average length of stay overall on our jail for the rest of the population ranges anywhere from 21-23 days," said Presley.
She said it puts a burden on the county's resources.
"The financial burden, the staffing burden, all the burden you can think of as far as it takes to operate a jail is being shifted from the jail to the prison," said Presley.
She voiced her concerns during the study's presentation. The Department of Corrections interim director, Roger Werholtz, was part of the team traveling around the state and presenting the study to communities with a prison.
Werholtz said this was the first time the problem was brought to his attention. He spoke with Presley after the presentation and said the two would work together to resolve the problem.
"I want to make sure that it's not anything that the Department of Correctons is doing contributing to her problem because we should be just as concerned about the jail being overcrowded as we are the prison being overcrowded," said Werholtz.
However, unlike Presley, he stood behind the study's findings that inmate populations are decreasing.
"I am not sure I agree with the assertion that crime is going up because the prison population is going down. In fact, our data would indicate that the parolees that are being released are being re-convicted at a lower level," said Werholtz.
"It may not be that there are more people, it's that they are staying longer, causing [CJC's] population to go up," said Werholtz.
Werholtz commented on recent oversights in the DOC's Parol Department that have been under heavy scrutiny recently. He said there would be serious changes made so the department will take a more proactive approach. He said the DOC is developing a new program to train officers and update its tools. However, he said these changes take time.
The state will utilize the study to make a five-year plan for its prison system. If the number of people behind bars keeps dropping, the state could reduce facilities or close them.
In the study's presentation, officials said the state would work with communities whose work force could be impacted by reductions or closures.
The results of the study will be released June 20.