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For sale: supermax prison, like new

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State representative Glenn Vaad was appalled to discover recently that corrections officials have delayed opening a $200-million supermax because of Colorado's fiscal woes. There's nothing that offends Vaad, a Republican who represents the Greeley area, more deeply than the idea of a brand-new lockup sitting empty, forlornly bereft of the clientele it was built to serve.

Vaad has called the situation "unconscionable," and he's proposed selling Colorado State Penetentiary II to a private company.

This doesn't sit well with corrections chief Ari Zavaras, since the state has avoided letting private contractors operate maximum-security prisons until now. (And for good reason -- they tend to skimp on pay and staffing, resulting in embarrassing "disturbances" like the 2004 riot at Crowley, subject of my feature "Maxed Out.")

Besides, all those extra solitary confinement cells might come in handy some day. Prisoner-rights advocates have insisted for years that CSP II was an unnecessary expense, but as long as the state insists on dumping mentally ill inmates in supermax because of a lack of other options, and private prisons continue to host disturbances, there will be a growing market for lockdown.

But that doesn't mean Vaad the Wholesaler's idea is totally without merit.

There are endless temporary uses for a bare-bones supermax in today's economy. Three come to mind immediately:

1. Spillover, minimalist housing for art sophisticates coming to Canon City to view Christo's proposed installation project above the Arkansas River.

2. Austere retreat for former investment advisers, AIG executives, and peddlers of mortgage-backed securities seeking spiritual absolution for their part in the economic meltdown.

3. Detainment camp for 9-11 truthers, Obama birthers, Glenn Beckians, Californians who move here and then wonder why Colorado isn't more like California, and any other annoying fringe types who need only this little nudge to confirm their secret hopes that yes, they are indeed living in a fascist state.

Other suggestions welcome. Send them here, and we'll pass them on to Rep. Vaad.

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