Just how important is the Delta Correctional Center (DCC) to the local community, and what is its relationship with the community?
Those questions were being asked in Delta last week by a consultant involved in reviewing 21 Colorado Department of Corrections (DOC) facilities in the state including Delta, Rifle and Sterling, the largest correctional facility in the system with a capacity of 2,485.
Mike Lane of Springfield, Ill., a retired corrections official and now a consultant with the Center for Naval Analysis (CNA) of Alexandria, Va., said that his company is conducting the evaluations for Colorado's Office of State Planning and Budget.
After visiting the DCC facility west of Delta last Friday, Lane held an hour-long meeting with local officials. Attending were all three county commissioners, the county administrator, Delta's city manager and its parks director, a representative of District #51, and two BLM managers from the Montrose and Grand Junction field offices.
Lane explained simply that the state is evaluating the 21 facilities and that his job was to write a report on what he found here. He didn't give a reason to the local officials why the DCC had been included in the evaluation, but he added, "I don't mean to be alarmist, but you will want to keep your eye on this ball."
The Department of Corrections reports that prison populations in the state are declining "at a historic rate." According to DOC executive director Tom Clements, "In fiscal year 2011-2012, the jurisdictional (prison) population declined by 1,573, and it continues to decrease. Efforts to right size our prison system included closing the Fort Lyon Correctional Facility last February, and closing the Colorado State Penitentiary II in November."
Other DOC facilities have seen cutbacks. Last summer a combined total of 317 prison beds were taken out of service from the Trinidad Correctional Facility, Sterling Correctional Facility and Buena Vista Correctional Facility, Clements reports.
Clements adds on the DOC website, "Last October, the Office of State Planning and Budget contracted with CNA to complete the analysis. The purpose of the study is to determine the most appropriate and cost-effective uses of available private and state prison beds."
The study was initiated by the General Assembly. The Prison Utilization Study is to produce a preliminary report for review by select General Assembly committees at the end of January.
At the meeting in Delta, Lane heard a lot from local leaders about how community work crews from the DCC contribute to construction and improvement of public facilities of every kind in Delta County, and in four surrounding counties.
District #2 Commissioner Bruce Hovde said that during 2011, the work crews contributed over 140,000 hours to
public works projects here. Some work may involve
flagging or ground maintenance. Other projects involve considerable skills.
The crews provide labor, some of its highly capable and skilled, on public lands projects for the BLM's Grand Junction and Uncompahgre field offices, said BLM managers.
Dave Kauffman, associate field officer manager in Montrose, said that the BLM uses the crews for skill work. "We don't just use them for picking up trash," he said. "Because of tight budgets, the work they do is on projects that would not get done without their participation. We're not using them just to save money."
Grand Junction BLM staffer Dave Plank offered a long list of projects that have been completed on local public lands thanks to participation of the DCC crews, including the newly rebuilt BLM rifle range in Mesa County.
Delta County commissioner Doug Atchley noted that "demand for the work crew services "far exceeds the available supply," The work crews are well supervised and the community does not live in fear of incidents, said Atchley who himself lives with a couple of miles of the DCC.
The positive economic impact of the correctional facility from work crews, payrolls, and goods and services purchased is immense, the local officials noted.
The Delta Correctional Center currently houses 480 inmates employing 131 line staff and seven other staff, according to the DOC.