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Staff Shortages Plague Colorado Prisons, Report Finds

A report highlights continued problems that Colorado prison staff shortages create for the state’s incarcerated population, News From The States reports. The Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, a Denver-based nonprofit, interviewed 400 people who are incarcerated in Colorado to determine how ongoing staff shortages affect them. The survey found that 93% of respondents said their facility is understaffed, with 85% calling the shortage significant or moderate. “This shortage is creating an untenable and moral crisis,” said the coalition's Jason Vitello. “The mission of the (Department of Corrections) is to cultivate ‘transformative opportunities for those under our supervision.’ Sadly, this data reveals a system that is unable to adequately meet the basic medical, mental health, and safety needs of the inmate population — let alone provide educational, rehabilitative or other transformative opportunities to help people successfully reenter society.” A common practice in Colorado is to reassign program staff to work security shifts when there is an insufficient number of correctional officers to meet minimum staffing requirements. In the survey, 88% said staff like teachers and case managers are frequently reassigned to a correctional officer post, leading to fewer services accessible to inmates and the quality of those services decreased because of staff burnout. 

The majority of respondents attributed their difficulties in accessing programming to the ongoing staff shortages. Case managers in particular, who play a “vital role in an inmate’s life and success,” provide subpar service in part due to staffing shortages, respondents said.  “I have been incarcerated for 25 years and have never seen prison this bad,” one person said. “We are basically being warehoused. There are very few programs or educational classes… no one wants to work here.” The report includes recommendations for the state legislature, including safely reducing the prison population; creating an oversight commission for the corrections department; expanding training opportunities for prisoners to increase peer-led programming; partnering with organizations that can help with rehabilitative and reentry programs; and requesting an internal staffing analysis. “Despite increasing the DOC budget by more than $192 million in just the past two years to close the staff vacancy gap, the increase in the prison population is outpacing the increase in net new hires in DOC,” the report concludes. “Little tangible progress has been made. Efforts to reduce the prison population must also be part of the strategies utilized to bring the number of staff, prison beds, inmates, and services/programs into alignment.”


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