Who is the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition?

Our mission is to reverse the trend of mass incarceration in Colorado. We are a coalition of nearly 7,000 individual members and over 100 faith and community organizations who have united to stop perpetual prison expansion in Colorado through policy and sentence reform.

Our chief areas of interest include drug policy reform, women in prison, racial injustice, the impact of incarceration on children and families, the problems associated with re-entry and stopping the practice of using private prisons in our state.

If you would like to be involved please go to our website and become a member.

Friday, October 16, 2015

NY Times Opinionater: Instead of jail, court fines cut to fit the wallet

Tina Rosenberg :  New York Times:

David Stojcevski died in jail in Macomb County, Mich., a far suburb of Detroit, last year. He was taking doctor-prescribed methadone and two anti-anxiety medicines to alleviate symptoms of drug withdrawal when he began a 30-day sentence in June 2014. His family alleges that officials at the jail did not respond to his pleas for his medicines. He began hallucinating and was placed in a special cell with 24-hour camera surveillance. (Local 4 television in Detroit first showed the video. A warning: Watching will produce nausea and outrage.) There he lay for 16 days, naked, on the floor. He lost 44 pounds. Finally he stopped breathing, was taken to a hospital and pronounced dead.

Guards are required to monitor the cell cameras, taking notes every 15 minutes. They watched Stojcevski for days as he died.

But this isn’t a story about horrendous jail practices, although the lessons should be obvious. Rather, the point is that Stojcevski received a death sentence for a traffic ticket: He had been arrested for obstruction of justice when he couldn’t pay a $772 fine for reckless driving.

His death is an extreme consequence of cash-register justice, a practice that ruins lives across the country every day in less dramatic ways.

And this is a story about a possible remedy: Make fines proportional to an offender’s ability to pay.
About a dozen countries in Latin America and Europe use such fines, called day fines. In countries where their use has been studied, day fines have markedly reduced the number of people incarcerated, made the criminal justice system fairer and less abusive to the poor, lowered recidivism and saved government money.
Day fines were tried in a handful of cities in the United States a quarter-century ago. They didn’t catch on, in part because the political climate was uncongenial: It was the peak of lock-’em-up sentiment. But America no longer wants to lock up every offender. Today, there is a rare bipartisan consensus on the harm created by mass incarceration.

So it’s time to take a serious new look at the day fine.
First, why we need it:
In America, people are routinely jailed for failure to pay fines. Since the 1990s, courts in many parts of the country have had to pay for themselves, or even support their cities, so fines can be exorbitant. Ferguson, Mo., is the most notorious example: “Ferguson’s law enforcement practices are shaped by the city’s focus on revenue rather than by public safety needs,” said the Justice Department’s report on the police and courts in Ferguson.

Someone pulled over for a missing taillight can be given multiple fines, plus court fees that might equal or exceed the original fines. If the accused can’t pay, her case may be turned over to a private company that supervises “pay-only probation” — bill collecting, really. The company collects the money and charges the offender for doing so. (Here’s an excellent summary of the process, written in plain English.) The offender could pay off her whole fine and still owe thousands of dollars. If she doesn’t pay, she could go to jail, which would probably mean losing her job.

Cash-register justice incarcerates or keeps on probation many people who are not dangerous, just poor. And taxpayers are being abused by legislators who keep heaping fees on offenders. The lawmakers are not considering the enormous cost of jailing those who can’t pay, the cost of collecting their debts, or the cost to society of turning a civil violator into an incarcerated criminal.

“I don’t think legislators know this is not working — that the fees on the books are costing more money than they are bringing in,” said Karin Martin, an assistant professor of public management at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. The Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, for example, looked at the incarceration of 246 people in Mecklenburg County, N.C., who fell behind on their court debt. The county collected $33,476, but jailing them cost $40,000.

Legislatures should not be making courts pay for themselves. It creates terrible injustice and ruins lives. It perverts justice by giving courts an incentive to convict.   But if judicial systems are going to be made to pay their own way, it should be done fairly.

One way is to use the day fine. Rather than a set dollar amount, it is a percentage or multiple of an offender’s daily income — hence the name. In some countries, “daily income” is simply after-tax earnings. Others adjust for the number of dependents or fixed obligations like child support, and some consider only what is earned above a basic living allowance.

In the United States, for example, a very minor offense carrying a fine of one day’s income might cost a minimum-wage earner $72 if based only on straight income, while someone with an annual income of $250,000 might pay $685. A more serious offense could carry a fine of 10 or 20 days’ income, or more. For the system to function, additional court fees should also be proportional to income.

Different fines for different people — is that fair? Compared with the current system, yes. Even $500 for a traffic fine and fees can ruin the life of a minimum-wage worker. For someone who makes $250,000 a year, that same fine is a minor inconvenience, and an ineffective deterrent to further violations. The rich are more likely to drive recklessly, and they can put a fine on a credit card without a thought. Same offense – two very different punishments.

But with a day fine, an offense would carry a similar punitive hit for rich and poor.

Germany is probably the biggest user of day fines. In 1975, the government of what was then West Germany adopted the practice because it wanted to reduce prison overcrowding, and because research had shown that low-level offenders jailed for short times emerged more violent and dangerous. Offenders were no longer given short sentences, but rather fines that were adjusted for income.

In 2010, Germany used day fines in more than 94 percent of traffic offenses and in a vast majority of crimes that would otherwise have drawn short jail sentences, like fraud, embezzlement and theft.
An early study, published in 1980 by Hans-Jorg Albrecht of the Max Planck Institute, found that the fines were more effective than short sentences at preventing future offenses.

Since day fines are calculated to be bearable, collection rates are much higher than with traditional fines. But they still require enforcement – in Germany’s case by means of other civil (not criminal) sanctions like the seizure of property, the garnisheeing of wages or the imposition of a sentence of community service. Nonpayers go to jail very rarely.

The Marshall Project: New York City's Big Idea on Bail

The Marshall Project

Last month in Brooklyn, a homeless teenager was arrested for jumping a turnstile. He had been arrested a few times before, so the judge set bail at $250. The teenager could not pay it. He was sent to Rikers Island jail to wait for trial. He was there for about two weeks.

We hear stories like this with unacceptable regularity. They may not generate the same attention that Sandra Bland’s and Kalief Browder’s stories did, but they should inspire the same outrage. Even one night spent in jail because of poverty is too many.

We are at a tipping point. Many jurisdictions are attacking the inequities associated with cash bail – Hawaii and New Jersey last year, and New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman just last week. New York City is, too. In the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, we are already working to eliminate bail for low-risk groups, and more is in the offing.

The low-risk defendant facing a low-level charge, detained on bail of $1,000 or less, should wait for trial at home, not behind bars. But this group is only 7 percent of the population jailed on bail in New York City.
The bigger question is what we do with the other 93 percent. These 44,000 people are still stuck with a bail system in which how much money someone has determines whether they are detained. If some of these individuals pose a risk to public safety, they should be detained. But the problem with money bail is that it can lead to unnecessary jail time if low-risk people cannot afford to pay bail. Just as troubling, it could also lead to high-risk people being able to pay bail and return to the street.

Before we spend money and time funding additional pilot projects, we need to understand the bigger, systemic problems that plague money bail. Until we do, reform attempts will be nothing more than whack-a-mole. On Tuesday we launched the Bail Lab to do just that.

The point of the Bail Lab is to scout ideas from across the country, and test them. An advisory board of leading experts on bail will guide us, but we have also opened an online hub that invites everyone – from tech start-ups to people with a family member behind bars – to ‘crowdsource’ bail reform. Help us map the problems with money bail. Help us test solutions. And then help us implement what works in New York City and share what we learn with other states and cities nationwide.

First up are experiments to answer the fundamental question of whether money is actually the best way to get people to return to court. The anecdotal evidence suggests the opposite may in fact be true. Most people – 93 percent in New York City – who are released without bail or other conditions before trial return to court within 30 days of their scheduled court date. And the Bronx Freedom Fund – a charitable organization that posts bail for clients facing misdemeanor charges – has had 97 percent of its clients successfully return to court since 2013. This suggests that cash deposits may not actually be necessary to ensure that defendants return to court.

To test that proposition, we will take defendants who have been bailed out by a charitable fund and randomly try various incentives to get them to show up for their court dates: texting reminders, involving family members, engaging defense counsel more actively, and other devices.
What we learn will be shared with judges, to make them aware of the choices they have. We will also work with the courts to gather data on the outcomes of bail – how many defendants with bail set at $250 go to jail? – so that judges can have access to information about what happened to cases. This will create an important feedback loop judges have been wanting.

New York City’s pre-trial system works well for many. We are a national leader in the percentage of defendants – 68 percent – who wait for trial at home, without conditions like supervision or money bail. Most of these defendants return for their trial date. Only 14 percent of defendants in New York City are held on bail. And for those who do have bail set, our system, for the most part, fairly matches bail amounts to the seriousness of the offense: 73 percent of defendants charged with a misdemeanor have bail set under $1000.
Despite these successes, our bail system – like others across the country – is driven largely by guesswork instead of science, with bail amounts often mismatched to defendants’ financial situation and the risk they pose. Courts often do not have the tools to make sure that bail does not lead to unnecessary detention for low-risk people and that release is not done at the expense of public safety. Someone who is a danger to others should be detained.

We are also testing how to speed up and simplify the bail payment process. Even though New York City sets bail amounts that are appreciably lower than the national average, only 10 percent of people are able to pay bail at arraignment. Another 30 percent make bail after arraignment, most within one week. Through experiments, we are identifying whether measures like allowing defendants to pay with a credit card would enable more people to post bail before they are booked into jail. If we can improve the process for posting bail, we can avoid the increased risk of recidivism that has been associated with just a few days in jail, as well as the sky-high costs of incarceration.

And there are other barriers we may be able to eliminate:
  • When someone is arrested, his cell phone is confiscated. That makes it much harder to contact family and friends and arrange bail before being transferred to jail.
  • The buses to Rikers leave from the courts on a regular schedule. If someone has bail set three hours before the bus goes, he has three hours to arrange bail. If he is arraigned 15 minutes before the bus leaves, chances are he’s going to jail.
We cannot afford to get bail reform wrong. The momentum spreading across the country right now is important and a long time coming, and we cannot settle for partial solutions. While money bail is still with us, we need to make it an accurate and productive 21st century public safety tool instead of a blunt and archaic instrument. But this process must be driven by science.
Elizabeth Glazer is the director of the New York City Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice.
For more on New York’s earlier bail reforms, see here. For a contrary view, see here.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

CCJRC 2015 Voices for Justice Sponsors

We simply cannot thank these folks enough for being part of our event.  A huge thanks also to all those who donated to the silent auction!!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Pell Grants to be restored to prisoners

Finally after two decades prisoners will be allowed to take college classes.  More information will be available on Friday when the official announcement comes from the White House
Wall Street Journal

The Obama administration plans to restore federal funding for prison inmates to take college courses, a potentially controversial move that comes amid a broader push to overhaul the criminal justice system.
The plan, set to be unveiled Friday by the secretary of education and the attorney general, would allow potentially thousands of inmates in the U.S. to gain access to Pell grants, the main form of federal aid for low-income college students. The grants cover up to $5,775 a year in tuition, fees, books and other education-related expenses.
Prisoners received $34 million in Pell grants in 1993, according to figures the Department of Education provided to Congress at the time. But a year later, Congress prohibited state and federal prison inmates from getting Pell grants as part of broad anticrime legislation, leading to a sharp drop in the number of in-prison college programs. Supporters of the ban contended federal aid should only go to law-abiding citizens.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Obama, in Oklahoma, takes reform message to the prison cell block

the New York Times

EL RENO, Okla. — They opened the door to Cell 123 and President Obama stared inside. In the space of 9 feet by 10, he saw three bunks, a toilet with no seat, a small sink, metal cabinets, a little wooden night table with a dictionary and other books, and the life he might have had.
As it turns out, there is a fine line between president and prisoner. As Mr. Obama became the first occupant of his high office to visit a federal correctional facility, he said he could not help reflecting on what might have been. After all, as a young man, he had smoked marijuana and tried cocaine. But he did not end up with a prison term, let alone one lasting decades.
“There but for the grace of God,” Mr. Obama said after his tour. “And that is something we all have to think about.”
Close to one in every 12 black men ages 25 to 54 are imprisoned, compared with one in 60 nonblack men in that age group.
Mr. Obama came here to showcase a bid to overhaul America’s criminal justice system in a way none of his predecessors have tried to do, at least not in modern times. Where other presidents worked to make life harder for criminals, Mr. Obama wants to make their conditions better.
With 18 months left in office, he has embarked on a new effort to reduce sentences for nonviolent offenders; to make it easier for former convicts to re-enter society; and to revamp prison life by easing overcrowding, cracking down on inmate rape and limiting solitary confinement.
What was once politically unthinkable has become a bipartisan venture. Mr. Obama is making common cause with Republicans and Democrats who have come to the conclusion that the United States has given excessive sentences to too many nonviolent offenders, at an enormous moral and financial cost to the country. This week, Mr. Obama commuted the sentences of 46 such prisoners and gave a speech calling for legislation to overhaul the criminal justice system by the end of the year.
He came to the El Reno Federal Correctional Institution on Thursday to get a firsthand look at what he is focused on. Accompanied by aides, correctional officials and a phalanx of Secret Service agents, he crossed through multiple layers of metal gates and fences topped by concertina wire to tour the prison and talk with some of the nonviolent drug offenders he says should not be serving such long sentences.
The prison was locked down for his visit. He was brought to Cell Block B, which had been emptied for the occasion. Only security personnel were outside on the carefully trimmed grass yards. The only inmates Mr. Obama saw were six nonviolent drug offenders who were selected to have a conversation with him recorded by the news organization Vice for a documentary on the criminal justice system that will air on HBO in the fall.
But those six made an impression. “When they describe their youth and their childhood, these are young people who made mistakes that aren’t that different from the mistakes I made and the mistakes that a lot of you guys made,” Mr. Obama told reporters afterward. “The difference is, they did not have the kind of support structures, the second chances, the resources that would allow them to survive those mistakes.”
He added that “we have a tendency sometimes to take for granted or think it’s normal” that so many young people have been locked up for drug crimes. “It’s not normal,” he said. “It’s not what happens in other countries. What is normal is teenagers doing stupid things. What is normal is young people who make mistakes.”
If they had the same advantages he and others have had, Mr. Obama added, they “could be thriving in the way we are.”
Continue reading the main story

1.5 Million Missing Black Men

Across the country, hundreds of thousands of black men are missing from everyday life.
Still, he made a distinction between nonviolent drug offenders like those he was introduced to here and other criminals guilty of crimes like murder, rape and assault. “There are people who need to be in prison,” Mr. Obama said. “I don’t have tolerance for violent criminals; many of them may have made mistakes, but we need to keep our communities safe.”
More than 2.2 million Americans are behind bars, and one study found that the size of the state and federal prison population is seven times what it was 40 years ago. Although the United States makes up less than 5 percent of the world’s population, it has more than 20 percent of its prison population

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

5 Ways President Obama Wants To Overhaul The Criminal Justice System

The White House is Working for Criminal Justice Reform

Obama's Criminal Justice Reform ProposalsPresident Obama wants to put justice back in the justice system:
Posted by AJ+ on Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

California's Plan to Curb America's Overmedication of Foster Kids


In the United States, low-income and foster-care kids are prescribed psychotropic drugs at an alarmingly higher rate than their peers in America or abroad. Governing recently wrote about the problem and what states are doing to deal with it in March. But since then, California began closing in on a package of bills that could make the state a leader in controlling overmedication.

Earlier this month, the California state Senate unanimously passed four bills that would strengthen the state’s monitoring system for foster kids' prescriptions, require stronger evidence documenting the need for medications, add more medical expertise in the area of oversight and force group homes that overprescribe to develop plans to change their practices. Some of those ideas aren't new, but experts say adopting all of them together could make California a model.

"We feel pretty confident that this package of four bills is really more comprehensive and targets so many different aspects of the problem that other states really have not been targeting,” said Bill Grimm of the National Center for Youth Law, the group behind the legislation.

Psychotropic drugs range from amphetamines, which are often prescribed for ADHD, to antidepressants and antipsychotics. Antipsychotics were originally intended for the treatment of severe mental health illnesses but have increasingly been prescribed to children with behavior issues since the 1990s. Numerous studies show low-income children, particularly those in foster care, are prescribed psychotropic drugs at rates far above privately insured kids. The Office of Inspector General has raised alarms in numerous reports. Since 2011, federal authorities have required states to report annually about steps they’re taking to curb psychotropic prescriptions.

California is one of only a few states that requires a judge to approve prescriptions for psychotropic drugs, but according to an investigative newspaper series, it still prescribed them to about a quarter of foster kids (compared to just 4.8 percent of privately insured children), over the past decade. The bills would revamp the court system of prior approval. The form that doctors submit to judges, for instance, would have to show that doctors tried other therapeutic services first. Judges would also have the power to request a second opinion or return the form for more information, and doctors would have to get the written consent of children 14 and older. The bill also offers training to everyone from judges to group-home employees on the appropriate uses of these drugs and expands data-sharing between the Medicaid system that pays for care and the child welfare system. 

The two most notable changes, though, are increased monitoring of group homes and expanded use of nurses -- both of which are uncommon. The newspaper series highlighted links between group homes for foster kids and high rates of prescription medications, which children often had to take as a condition of staying there. With better data-sharing, state officials would flag group homes with the highest rates of psychotropic prescribing and require them to make plans to reduce overmedication. Nurses, meanwhile, would monitor the side effects of antipsychotics such as serious weight gain, diabetes and neurological disorders.

The bills haven’t encountered opposition, but they still need to pass the California Assembly and get the signature of Gov. Jerry Brown who's been fairly quiet on the issue even though it generated a lot of interest after the newspaper investigation. The bills come at an estimated cost of $5 million in the first year, with about $4 million thereafter. To Anna Johnson, a policy analyst with the National Center for Youth Law, Brown's reputation as a budget hawk means he's less likely to support the bill package.
“His main legacy here has been that he’s had this balanced budget, but for foster kids [for] whom every day feels like a rainy day, we feel like he could do more to protect them,” she said.
When asked for his opinion on the package of bills, his press office said Brown doesn’t typically comment on pending legislation.

Shadi Houshyar, vice president of child welfare policy at the advocacy group First Focus, agrees that the bills would be a positive step, but she also thinks states are generally behind on an element that’s critical to actually replace drugs: access to services like intensive counseling and individualized case management.
“The biggest challenge is how you increase the use of evidence-based therapies for kids in addition to the monitoring strategies,” she said.

The way to do that, according to Houshyar, is to offer those services through Medicaid, which allows states to leverage federal funding, and make them accessible through child welfare departments. Some notable examples of places that do that are Arizona -- which has a Medicaid plan specifically for foster children -- Michigan and New Jersey.

For California, the money is there, said Grimm. Since 2004, the state has raised $13 billion for mental health services from a ballot measure that raised taxes on people earning more than $1 million a year. But an independent state oversight agency found recently that much of the spending is unaccountable and poorly prioritized, with little sense of exactly how the money is being spent and what it’s producing. Grimm’s group wants to ensure that money is going to children in the foster-care system.

 “There is a considerable amount of money and resources out there,” he said. “The question is to what extent is that money being used for children?”

Healthcare matters

Germany's Kinder, Gentler, Safer Prisons

The Marshall Project

On Sunday, bleary after an overnight flight from New York, a group of American criminal justice professionals squeezed into a private room in a downtown Berlin restaurant. They were preparing to visit German prisons and meet German prison officials. The trip, organized by the Vera Institute, a think tank based in New York, is all about studying another system so that we might better understand our own.
From the brief introductions, it was clear that this trip would be as much about the United States as about Europe. Germany’s system of sentencing (15 years is the longest most people go to prison here unless they are demonstrably dangerous) and incarceration (open, sunny prisons, full of fresh air, where prisoners wear their own clothes) serves as a reference point for reflecting on the punitive mentality that has come to define the U.S. justice system.
In Germany, then, we would see ourselves—but through a looking glass.
The American travelers—corrections officials, district attorneys, academics, and activists—represent the variety of perspectives that fall under what journalists have taken to calling the “emerging consensus” on criminal justice reform. There are the guys who run prisons and worry about recidivism numbers. There are elected district attorneys wondering how the public responds to such short sentences. And then there are reform activists determined to see prisoners treated humanely.