Lawmakers questioning sending high risk prisoners out of state
DENVER – A group of Colorado inmates who started a riot at a private prison in Mississippi in 2004 so they could be transferred back to Colorado will force lawmakers to review their policy that allowed the Department of Corrections to ship troublemakers out of state.This week, The House Judiciary Committee holds a hearing on a measure (Senate Bill 23) prohibiting the Department of Corrections from placing state inmates classified higher than medium custody in private prison facilities located within Colorado or outside the state.The only exception would allow the governor to declare a correctional emergency and by proclamation authorize the department to place state inmates classified higher than medium custody in private prison facilities.Rep. Val Vigil, D-Thornton, said an audit last year revealed that the state had no policy on shipping high risk inmates out of state, and that other states have no uniform way they treat low, medium or high risk prisoners.”We had to decide whether we should change the practice or change the statutes. We decided to change the statutes,” Vigil said.Vigil said it was unfair to inmates, forcing their families to travel thousands of miles to visit relatives in jail.Vigil said the state will allow exceptions for the governor to declare a correctional emergency, so that the state would have some options in the event of a riot, a murder or a fire. Lawmakers are making it clear that an emergency does not include prison overcrowding, which has forced the state to turn to private prisons over the past decade.The disturbance occurred a day after a similar riot at Crowley Correctional Facility, a private prison near Olney Springs, Colo. At Crowley, inmates rioted and set fires, destroying one living unit and extensively damaging four others.Both private prisons were operated by Corrections Corp. of America, which was criticized by lawmakers for not hiring enough employees at the Crowley facility.Rep. Buffie McFadyen, D-Pueblo West, said Colorado has a duty to protect its inmates, and the state can’t guarantee that when it sends them to other states which have their own rules.”One thing government has to do is ensure public safety. That includes inmates,” McFadyen said.The state has temporarily abandoned the practice of sending troublemakers out of state after at least 28 inmates from Colorado were involved in the uprising at the Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility in Mississippi two years ago.Other major bills up this week:- On Thursday, the House Finance Committee begins work on a measure (House bill 1347) setting up a task force to help local law enforcement fight identity theft. It’s one of several bills dealing with the issue, which has become a major problem statewide.- On Wednesday, the Senate Business, Labor & Technology Committee takes up a controversial proposal (House Bill 1212) that would allow pharmacists to bypass doctors and prescribe emergency contraception. The measure passed in the House over the strong objections of Republicans, who said it sets a dangerous precedent by allowing pharmacists make medical decisions.
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