DENVER (AP) – Colorado will close a second state prison in two years because of a declining inmate population, the state Department of Corrections announced Monday.

About 200 jobs at Colorado State Penitentiary II in Canon City, also called the South Tower of Centennial Correctional Facility, will be cut or moved to other prisons.

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The facility, known as “CSP II,” has 316 high-security beds. The state said CSP II would be closed by February 2013, for a savings of $4.5 million next year.

The Department of Corrections cited the declining state inmate population and less use of solitary confinement, or “administrative segregation,” which was the main use of CSP II. Colorado’s total inmate population fell to 21,562 last month from a peak of 23,220 in July 2009.

Officials have attributed the inmate decline to revised sentencing laws that reduce penalties for certain drug convictions. They also credited efforts to keep paroled prisoners from having to be sent back to prison.

Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper lauded the prison closure Monday.

“Let’s hope that this continues, that we have less folks in prison,” Hickenlooper said. “This is good news. It means we have some difficult decisions, but this is good news.”

Officials said some 213 jobs would be “reassigned” to vacant positions in Fremont County prisons. The larger Centennial Correctional Facility in Canon City will remain open.

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A union that represents public employees including prison guards raised questions about the prison closure Monday. Colorado Workers for Innovations and New Solutions said prisons are understaffed.

“Frontline workers need a seat at the table” in budget decisions, said Scott Wasserman, executive director or Colorado WINS.

CSP II will be the second prison in two years closed to save money. Earlier this year, the state shuttered the former Fort Lyon Correctional Facility in Bent County. The state has since scrambled to find a use for that facility and is considering using part of a national mortgage settlement payment to turn the former prison into transitional veterans’ housing.

Hickenlooper said Monday that CSP II was chosen for closure in part because Canon City, he said, is less dependent on prison employment than Las Animas, home of Fort Lyon.

“It’s not as destructive to the community,” Hickenlooper said of the CSP II closure.

– By Kristen Wyatt, AP Writer

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