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Are corrections-based treatment programs in jeopardy?

March 23, 2011
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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Several apparent money-saving efforts in Colorado could be cut or eliminated

Human-services programs that promise savings in future years often have trouble receiving an airing in difficult budget times. But when difficult turns to dire, as it has in most states, even existing programs that have shown documented savings might not be able to sustain state leaders’ investment in the efforts.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper proposed in his 2011-2012 budget the reduction or elimination of a number of programs designed to reduce recidivism, including treatment initiatives targeting drug offenders. Among these was the Circle Program, a $1.5 million initiative that works with about 20 offenders at a time, targeting individuals with co-occurring disorders who have failed in other programs.

Judicial officials have credited the Circle Program with establishing a viable alternative to imprisonment and being a money-saver. Hickenlooper’s office has acknowledged the past successes of programs such as these, but insists the cuts are unavoidable if the state is going to make inroads in balancing its severely strained budget.

The Colorado Independent reported this month that according to a 2010 document from Colorado’s Office of State Planning and Budgeting, recidivism and diversion packages implemented by former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter’s administration yielded a combined savings of more than $10 million in just their first year. The report stated that the ability to pull back from plans to expand state prison space has resulted in substantial savings.

A state legislative committee has been working this month to identify possible funding options that would allow the Circle Program to remain in operation. About 30 workers staff the 90-day program.

Yet while the program’s $1.5 million cost might appear to be modest, the same could be said for dozens of other state programs facing cuts or elimination. In state budget times such as these, most everything—even those efforts that have a noteworthy track record—will be on the table.

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