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Colorado prisons say they could run out of room next year. Lawmakers say they’ve heard the alarm before and can’t write “blank checks”

The escalating political pressure comes at a critical juncture for the prison system, whose officials warn lawmakers they could run out of space to hold people as soon as next year. But after prior cries of alarm proved premature last summer, lawmakers are approaching the latest projections with skepticism, and instead pushing forward with sweeping reforms aimed at forcing the department’s hand.

 

“We can no longer give the Department of Corrections blank checks,” Rep. Leslie Herod, a Denver Democrat, recently told the House. “There must be transparency and accountability.”

 

Colorado’s prison population rose steadily in the 1990s and 2000s, peaking in 2009 with about 23,200 inmates, according to state budget documents. Over the next seven years, the trend reversed, and the number of inmates fell more than 15 percent to a low of about 19,600 in 2016, even as the state added residents.

 

 

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