State of Colorado considers closing of prison in Rifle

MEEKER — With the state facing a $604 million budget shortfall and looking for ways to save money, the Rifle Correctional Facility could be shut down and the property sold.
That means David Scherbarth of Meeker, who is associate warden of the minimum-security prison, and other staff would have to move on, if they want to continue with the state correctional system.
“I’m in a very precarious position,” said Scherbarth, who said he could not comment on his reaction to the shutdown. “What I can tell you, nobody is losing their job. They will be reassigned to other facilities.”
Scherbarth said “there are four staff from Meeker” who work at the prison.
No timeline was given for closing the facility.
“Right now, the timeframes are very tentative,” Scherbarth said. “It will be dictated by the inmate population.”
Sen. Al White, for one, would like to see the state reconsider closing the prison.
“I’m trying to get that reversed,” White, who serves on the Joint Budget Committee, said last Saturday while in Meeker. His district also includes Rifle. “If I can convince my colleagues it makes sense, we may do that.”
The Rifle facility is a 192-bed prison.
“We’re full right now,” Scherbarth said. “We’re typically full.”
He said he did not know how long it would take to “phase down” the prison.
“The biggest thing, we have to phase down our population,” Scherbarth said. “We have relatively high turnover rates, because the inmates are on the tail-end of their sentences. Our whole facility is geared toward pre-release. Our mission is gearing these guys to go out into the community. The problem with phase down is balancing (the prison population) with relocating staff, but we need to safely do that.”
He estimated the average stay for an inmate is nine to 15 months. He said the prison’s population would be gradually phased out.
“It will most likely be through attrition,” Scherbarth said. “We will have some inmates who aren’t eligible for parole, who will be absorbed into other facilities. We have other minimum-security facilities in the state.”
Scherbarth said the move to close the prison was a sign of the tough economic times the state is going through.
“We’ve never shut down a prison,” he said. “That’s a real statement as far as the state is concerned.”