Colo. DOC responds to report critical of 'status quo' on staffing crisis

Report claims staff and inmate safety has been compromised and basic operations interrupted

By Jeff Rice

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — A report issued last week by the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition levels serious charges at the Colorado Department of Corrections and the Colorado General Assembly, accusing them of continuing to expand prison capacity in spite of staffing shortages.

"The sheer number and frequency of DOC staff vacancies have reached the point at which: staff and inmate safety and wellbeing have been compromised; basic prison operations have been interrupted; and the delivery of quality rehabilitative, medical/behavioral health treatment has been effectively disabled," the report says.

In its defense, DOC spokesperson Annie Skinner responded over the weekend that the department has no control over how many inmates get sent to prison, but has a duty to make space available for them.

"(I)t is important to note that the CDOC does not control how many inmates come to us, or how long they stay," Skinner said. "With our expected population numbers, which are predicted by two independent agencies, we will need funding for additional beds in order to operate safely. Inmates will still keep coming into the DOC and we have to have a place to put them."

The CCJRC implies that Colorado is doing little or nothing to resolve the staffing crisis in the state's prison system and urges state officials to take "meaningful steps" to correct the situation. Instead, the report says, state officials continue to expand capacity, just "throwing money at the problem."

"The status quo is no way to treat state employees and inmates or operate the DOC. Just throwing money at the problem will not make it go away, and simply warehousing people in prisons does not promote rehabilitation and public safety," the report says. "To resolve the DOC's staffing crisis, policymakers and the Governor must take meaningful steps to manage the prison population, as well as continue aggressive hiring and retention efforts that do not lower hiring and training standards."

And that, Skinner told the Journal-Advocate, is exactly what is happening. Recruitment efforts have whittled the staffing shortage down considerably, and policies have been adjusted to widen the possible hiring pool.

"CDOC remains committed to filling our vacancies as quickly as possible and we continue to develop and implement new strategies for the recruitment and retention of staff," she said. "We have removed barriers in the hiring process and expanded our reach to recruit a more diverse staff that better represents the population of Colorado. Our efforts are paying off, resulting in a vacancy rate that is below 1,600 for the first time in over a year."

Skinner said DOC has recently instituted new financial incentives for staff retention, staff referral incentives, new employee incentives and new employee relocation incentives. She said most of the current staff has received $4,000 retention bonuses and staff members who refer successful job candidates to the department can earn up to a $2,000 referral incentive. New hires also can earn sign-up bonuses and those who hire on at facilities hardest hit by staffing shortages can earn additional bonuses.

Transfers to areas suffering the worst shortages can have some moving expenses paid, and monthly housing stipends have been approved for staffers at the Sterling, Limon and Buena Vista facilities.

You can read the CCJRC's full report and DOC's response at the links below.

CCJRC ReportCDOC Response

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