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.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

After the Murder of Tom Clements, Can Colorado's Prison System Rehabilitate Itself? by Alan Prendergast


When Tom Clements accepted the job of executive director of the Colorado Department of Corrections three years ago, he knew he was taking on an enormous challenge. Two particularly alarming sets of figures, trends that he believed to be more than casually related, caught his eye immediately.
One had to do with the excessive use of solitary confinement in order to isolate and punish the state's most troublesome prisoners. The other was the staggeringly high failure rate of parole.
Clements was a numbers guy. A native of the Show Me State, he valued empirical data more than gut instincts or sacred cows. A former parole officer who'd worked his way up to the top ranks of the Missouri state prison system, he was part of a growing reform movement in corrections: the promulgation of "evidence-based practices" by administrators whose idea of managing offenders is turning them into productive citizens again rather than simply moving them around. What mattered were hard numbers and programs with a track record of successful outcomes, and the data on the Colorado DOC wasn't good.

Tom Clements.
Tom Clements.
New DOC head Rick Raemisch was told to honor the legacy of Tom Clements.
New DOC head Rick Raemisch was told to honor the legacy of Tom Clements.
At the time that Clements arrived, Colorado had close to 1,500 inmates in solitary, or administrative segregation — which worked out to be about seven times the national average. Only a quarter of those in lockdown were there because of assaults on staff or other inmates; ad-seg had become the one-size-fits-all method of dealing with the mentally ill, suspected gang members, chronic screwups, or anyone else who appeared to be at risk of harm or of harming others. The average stay in isolation was nearly two years. Worse, 47 percent of the ad-seg prisoners completed their sentences in lockdown and were paroled directly to the street, with little or no preparation for the move from an eight-by-ten-foot cell to city life.
Forty-seven percent. As Clements saw it, that figure had a lot to do with some other dismal figures: the state's stubbornly high recidivism rate, hovering around 50 percent, and the steady return of thousands of parole violators to prison within months of their release.
The subject of Colorado's ad-seg problem figured prominently in the discussions of the executive-director job that Clements had with Governor John Hickenlooper. Without mentioning any names, Hickenlooper made passing reference to one prisoner, the son of a friend, who'd spent the bulk of his sentence in lockdown because of disciplinary problems. Clements took the position that the routine release of damaged, violent felons directly from isolation wasn't simply a parole problem, but a threat to public safety.
Reducing the use of solitary confinement became one of the new chief's top priorities. He pushed for more frequent and thorough reviews of who was in ad-seg and why, as well as initiatives to get prisoners out of isolation and into classes, drug treatment and mental-health programs before release. During his first two years on the job, the state's ad-seg population dropped by nearly 50 percent. Clements was encouraged by the progress, but hardly satisfied.
"It's only a matter of time," he told one top deputy, "until something goes bad."
His prediction proved to be all too accurate. But not even the new chief expected it to go quite as bad as it did, literally on his own doorstep. On the evening of March 19, 2013, Clements answered the doorbell at his Monument home and was confronted by a parole absconder named Evan Ebel — the same "son of a friend" Hickenlooper had mentioned during Clements's 2011 job interview. Released from ad-seg just seven weeks earlier, Ebel had already killed Nathan Leon, a pizza delivery driver, just to get his uniform. Ebel fatally shot Clements with a nine-millimeter handgun and fled, only to be killed himself two days later in a shootout with Texas authorities.
Almost eighteen months later, many questions about the death of Tom Clements remain unanswered. Authorities have described it as a gang-ordered assassination. Citing unnamed sources, the Denver Post has even suggested that it was a murder for hire, commissioned by a Saudi national who'd been denied a transfer out of a Colorado prison just days earlier. But aside from Stevie Vigil, the young woman who supplied Ebel with his gun, no charges have been filed against anyone in the case — and longtime friends of Ebel, citing letters and a recorded message he left behind, have insisted that the murder was an act of personal vengeance against a system that he despised.
Trying to make sense of a senseless killing has put considerable strain not only on investigators, but on DOC officials, as well, who have struggled to define what sort of "lesson," if any, can be gleaned from the tragedy. On one hand, Rick Raemisch, the current director, has expressed his determination to honor Clements's legacy, leading to a dramatic reduction in the number of mentally ill prisoners in ad-seg. But the shock and outrage of the slaying has also led to a major shakeup in the department's leadership team and retrenchment in many critical areas, including parole. Clements had set out to change not only the direction of DOC policy, but also the agency's internal culture, and many of his initiatives are now on hold or have been quietly scrapped. While the system failures exposed by Ebel's rampage have generated a flurry of new legislation and heightened security measures, some observers wonder if Clements's death has also jeopardized reforms that he regarded as long overdue.
 continue reading Westword article

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Sentencing, by the Numbers

New York Times

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — IN a recent letter to the United States Sentencing Commission, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. sharply criticized the growing trend of evidence-based sentencing, in which courts use data-driven predictions of defendants’ future crime risk to shape sentences. Mr. Holder is swimming against a powerful current. At least 20 states have implemented this practice, including some that require risk scores to be considered in every sentencing decision. Many more are considering it, as is Congress, in pending sentencing-reform bills.

Risk-assessment advocates say it’s a no-brainer: Who could oppose “smarter” sentencing? But Mr. Holder is right to pick this fight. As currently used, the practice is deeply unfair, and almost certainly unconstitutional. It contravenes the principle that punishment should depend on what a defendant did, not on who he is or how much money he has.

The basic problem is that the risk scores are not based on the defendant’s crime. They are primarily or wholly based on prior characteristics: criminal history (a legitimate criterion), but also factors unrelated to conduct. Specifics vary across states, but common factors include unemployment, marital status, age, education, finances, neighborhood, and family background, including family members’ criminal history.
Such factors are usually considered inappropriate for sentencing; if anything, some might be mitigating circumstances. But in the new, profiling-based sentencing regimen, markers of socioeconomic disadvantage increase a defendant’s risk score, and most likely his sentence.

Advocates of punishment profiling argue that it gives sentencing a scientific foundation, allowing better tailoring to crime-prevention goals. Many hope it can reduce incarceration by helping judges identify offenders who can safely be diverted from prison. 

While well intentioned, this approach is misguided. The United States inarguably has a mass-incarceration crisis, but it is poor people and minorities who bear its brunt. Punishment profiling will exacerbate these disparities — including racial disparities — because the risk assessments include many race-correlated variables. Profiling sends the toxic message that the state considers certain groups of people dangerous based on their identity. It also confirms the widespread impression that the criminal justice system is rigged against the poor. 

It is na├»ve to assume judges will use the scores only to reduce sentences. Judges, especially elected ones, will face pressure to harshly sentence those labeled “high risk.” And even if risk scores were used only for diversion from prison, it would still be wrong to base them on wealth and demographics, reserving diversion for the relatively privileged.

Evidence-based sentencing also raises serious constitutional concerns. The Supreme Court has consistently held that otherwise-impermissible discrimination cannot be justified by statistical generalizations about groups, even if those generalizations are on average accurate. People have a right to be treated as individuals, and individuals often do not conform to group averages.
For example, in its 1983 decision in Bearden v. Georgia, the court unanimously rejected the state’s contention that a defendant could have his probation revoked because his recent job loss increased his crime risk. The court held that “lumping him together with other poor persons and thereby classifying him as dangerous ... would be little more than punishing a person for his poverty.”

Litigation has been slow in coming, however. The risk-prediction instruments are not very transparent (some are proprietary corporate products), and defendants may not understand the role of poverty and personal characteristics. But challenges could be on the horizon. For example, I recently participated in training the Michigan defense counsel on constitutional objections to evidence-based sentencing, in preparation for the state’s impending implementation. 

Of course, judges have always considered future crime risk informally, and it’s worth considering whether actuarial methods can help make those predictions more accurate. The problem isn’t risk assessment per se; it’s basing scores on demographics and socioeconomics. Instead, scores could be based on past and present conduct, and perhaps other factors within the defendant’s control. 

Data-driven predictions grounded in legitimate factors might be about as accurate as current profiling schemes. There is no persuasive evidence that the current troubling variables add much predictive value, once criminal conduct is already taken into account. But even if they do improve accuracy, this gain doesn’t justify sacrificing fairness. 

Criminal justice policy should be informed by data, but we should never allow the sterile language of science to obscure questions of justice. I doubt many policy makers would publicly defend the claim that people should be imprisoned longer because they are poor, for instance. Such judgments are less transparent when they are embedded in a risk score. But they are no more defensible.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014


Dear [fname]
Hi there!!! CCJRC was awarded a grant to attend and participate in a class for Digital Storytelling for Nonprofits.  We created a movie and now we are in the running for a fabulous prize…
These are digital stories that nonprofit organizations created as part of their participation in Open Media Foundation's Digital Storytelling for Nonprofits class.
Winning videos will be announced on Friday August 8th at 7pm, during the live show 'SparqU Presents: The Perfect Pitch for Nonprofits'".  If you have already voted for this, thank you!!
Can you go to the link below and vote for “Floorboards” ?  Floorboards was written about the story of a son’s experience of his mother’s incarceration and their eventual reunion.  This is a preview of the live performance that you will be able to see at the CCJRC "Voices for Justice" 6th Annual Fundraiser
Thank you so much!!!  (After you get to the Open Media website you have to click on the red stars under the title until they turn yellow and the vote count actually changes). 
Don't forget to get your tickets to the
     CCJRC’s 2014 6th Annual Fundraiser
Thursday, September 18, 2014
5:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m
2027 West Lower Colfax
Denver, CO.

Early bird tickets: $85

This year, we are honoring Claire Levy for her invaluable contribution to criminal justice reform. As House Representative, she carried a significant number of bills vital to reducing recidivism, implementing smarter sentencing and drug policy, expanding funding for treatment, increasing alternatives to incarceration, and providing resources to people with criminal convictions. Her work on the Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice (CCJJ) was exemplary as is her current work as Executive Director of the Colorado Center on Law and Policy.

CCJRC has been successfully advocating for sensible criminal justice reform in Colorado for more than a decade. We were founded in 1999 when Senator Dorothy Rupert, in alliance with Representative Penfield Tate, introduced legislation calling for a three-year halt on prison expansion and the creation of a task force on sentencing reform. Today, CCJRC includes more than 100 community organizations and faith communities and nearly 6,500 individual members statewide. We have worked diligently over the years to develop criminal justice policies and grassroots campaigns that effectively promote public safety and rehabilitation while reducing the prison population.

The Rupert Tate Game Changer Award honors its two co-founders and their prescience in challenging the criminal justice status quo in Colorado. It is a great honor to extend this award to
Claire Levy

$1000--Contributing Sponsors
Prax (us)                   Jan and Dave Mackenzie
Second Chance Center
       Bill Vandenberg                  

$750 - Advocate Sponsors

$500 – Freedom Fighter Sponsors
    Tiftickjian Law Firm, PC              

$250 – Justice Sponsors
                                                Elizabeth Anderman        Tony and Leigh Bubb
           T. Marshal Seufert       Brian Connors       Councilman Albus Brooks     Endpoint Direct
                 Advocates for Change    St. Francis Center    Longmont Community Justice Partnership
                    Colorado Juvenile Defender Coalition       Colorado Behavioral Health Council

Event Audience
  • Colorado community members supporting criminal justice reform, mental health/substance abuse treatment services and law enforcement
  • Prospective CCJRC major donors who have an interest in our event and/or organization
  • Current CCJRC donors at all levels
  • Law firms and related legal businesses
  • Current CCJRC coalition partners and faith communities
  • Civic leaders and legislators engaged in criminal justice reform, health care, public policy, and treatment

Sponsorship Opportunities

Voices for Justice Sponsor - $10,000
  • Four seats at dinner
  • Your Company name used in title of event ~ “Voices for Justice” presented by Your Company
  • Opportunity for sponsor representative to speak
  • Your Company name used in all media promotion
  • Your Company name and logo on all marketing and materials
  • Sponsor banner at event
  • Recognition in Colorado Justice Report, our tri-annual newsletter to over 6,000 members
  • Full page ad/logo in Event Program
  • CCJRC website and social media recognition with link to your website
  • Table signage

Game Changer Sponsor - $5,000
  • Four seats at dinner
  • Your Company name used in title of event ~ “Game Changer” presented by Your Company
  • Opportunity for sponsor representative to speak
  • Your Company name used in all media promotion
  • Your Company name and logo on all marketing and materials
  • Sponsor banner at event
  • Recognition in Colorado Justice Report, our tri-annual newsletter to over 6,000 members
  • Full page ad/logo in Event Program
  • CCJRC website and social media recognition with link to your website
  • Table signage

Supporting Sponsor - $2,500
  • Four seats at dinner
  • Your Company name used in all media promotion
  • Your Company name and logo on all marketing and materials
  • Sponsor banner at event
  • Recognition in Colorado Justice Report, our tri-annual newsletter to over 6,000 members
  • ½ page ad/logo in Event Program
  • CCJRC website and social media recognition with link to your website
  • Table signage

Contributing Sponsor $1,000
  • Four seats at dinner
  • Your Company name on all marketing and materials
  • Sponsor banner at event
  • Recognition in Colorado Justice Report, our tri-annual newsletter to over 6,000 members
  • ¼ page ad/logo in Event Program
  • CCJRC website and social media recognition with link to your website
  • Table signage

Advocate Sponsor - $750
  • Two seats at dinner
  • Your Company name on all marketing and materials
  • Sponsor banner at event
  • Recognition in Colorado Justice Report, our tri-annual newsletter to over 6,000 members
  • Listing in Event Program
  •  CCJRC website and social media recognition with link to your website
  • Table signage

Freedom Fighter Sponsor - $500
  • Two seats at dinner
  • Sponsor banner at event
  • Recognition in Colorado Justice Report, our tri-annual newsletter to over 6,000 members
  • Listing in Event Program
  • CCJRC website and social media recognition with link to your website
  • Table signage

Rupert-Tate Sponsor - $375
  • Two seats at dinner
  • Recognition in Colorado Justice Report, our tri-annual newsletter to over 6,000 members
  • Listing in Event Program
  • CCJRC website and social media recognition with link to your website
  • Table signage

Justice Sponsor - $250
  • Two seats at dinner
  • Listing in Event Program
  • CCJRC website and social media recognition with link to your website
  • Table signage
 I'd like to Sponsor this event!!!

Friday, July 18, 2014

U.S. Sentencing Commission cuts prison terms for 46,000 inmates


he U.S. Sentencing Commission voted Friday to slash sentences for 46,000 inmates serving time for drug offenses, the latest move in a concerted effort by state and federal officials to ease decades-old policies that have clogged jails and prisons.
If the move is not blocked by Congress, more than two-thirds of federal prisoners incarcerated for drug crimes will be eligible for sentence reductions averaging more than two years.

Atty. Gen Eric H. Holder Jr. originally asked the commission, a group of judges and other lawyers who establish sentencing policies, to take a much narrower approach that would affect just 20,000 inmates.
But Holder said Friday he supports the new policy. “This is a milestone in the effort to make more efficient use of our law enforcement resources and to ease the burden on our overcrowded prison system, ” he said in a statement.

Judge Patti B. Saris, chair of the commission, said, “This amendment received unanimous support from commissioners because it is a measured approach. It reduces prison costs and populations, and responds to statutory and guidelines changes since the drug guidelines were initially developed, while safeguarding public safety.”
No prisoner would be released until a judge reviews their case to determine whether a reduced sentence poses a risk to public safety.
The House and Senate would have to vote by Nov. 1 to block the plan. But there has been bipartisan support in both houses for a broad change in prison policies.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Study Finds Racial Disparity in Prosecutions

The New York Times

Black and Hispanic defendants are more likely to be held in jail before trial and more likely to be offered plea bargains that include a prison sentence than whites and Asians charged with the same crimes, according to a two-year study of prosecutions handled by the Manhattan district attorney’s office.
The study, by the Vera Institute of Justice, found that race was a significant factor at nearly every stage of criminal prosecutions in Manhattan, from setting bail to negotiating a plea deal to sentencing.
But race was not the sole factor, the study’s authors said. A number of legal considerations were found to be more important in predicting a defendant’s fate, among them the seriousness of the charge and the defendant’s arrest record.
Nicholas Turner, the president of the institute, said researchers could not determine what caused the unequal treatment. “It could be implicit bias,” he said. “It could also be race-neutral policies that end up having a particular disparate effect.”
The Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., said he was concerned that racial disparities had cropped up, especially in the areas of pretrial detention and sentencing. He promised to move forward with “implicit bias” training for his assistants to guard against unconscious prejudices in their decision-making.
“I’m glad to know the information,” Mr. Vance said in an interview. “It’s more important that we find out, ask the question and deal directly with what is uncovered, rather than failing to ask the question at all.”
Funded by the Justice Department, the study grew out of Mr. Vance’s campaign promise to determine whether race played a role in the decisions of prosecutors. In a rare move, his office opened its books to the institute’s analysts for 2010 and 2011 and gave them unfettered access.
The study is one of the largest of its kind to be done in the United States, and its findings echoed what smaller studies had found in places like Milwaukee. The authors examined 222,542 resolved prosecutions over two years, scrutinizing data for all misdemeanors and a selection of felonies, including drug offenses.
The report comes at a time of heightened public debate across the nation about whether the criminal justice system treats people of different races equally. That debate drove the legal battle over the stop-and-frisk program in New York City and has prompted the United States attorney general to order an examination of federal convictions and sentencing guidelines.
“It is consistent with other studies,” Don Stemen, an associate professor of criminology at Loyola University in Chicago, said. “Even when controlling for all these legal factors, race still has an impact.”
One of the starkest disparities emerged in the prosecution of misdemeanor drug crimes like possession of marijuana or cocaine. The study found blacks were 27 percent more likely than whites to receive jail or prison time for misdemeanor drug offenses, while Hispanic defendants were 18 percent more likely to be incarcerated for those crimes.

The study’s authors, Besiki Luka Kutateladze and Nancy R. Andiloro, looked at five key points in a criminal case when prosecutors have significant discretion. They examined the prosecutor’s decisions about which cases to accept, which to dismiss, what to recommend at bail hearings, what plea bargains to offer and what sentences to recommend.
Race turned out to be a statistically significant factor at every stage, save the initial decision to accept cases, the study found.
Blacks were 10 percent more likely than whites to be remanded to jail before trial or to be unable to make bail. Asians fared even better than whites when it came to remaining free before trial: 24 percent of white defendants were detained, but only 14 percent of Asians were held.
Prosecutors were also found to be more likely to offer black and Hispanic defendants plea deals on misdemeanors that included jail time. Forty percent of black defendants and 36 percent of Hispanic defendants were offered plea deals involving incarceration, rather than probation or community service. That ratio for whites was 33 percent, and for Asians, 17 percent.
At sentencing, blacks were also found to be slightly more likely to be sentenced to jail than whites and Latinos, with Asians significantly less likely to receive jail terms.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Naional Blueprint for Drug Policy Reform

National Blueprint for Drug Policy Reform

Can't believe this is on the White House website.

Today, we will unveil the latest update to President Obama’s plan for reducing drug use and its consequences, the 2014 National Drug Control Strategy. This Strategy, which continues to be shaped by the input of people across the country like you, rejects the notion that we can arrest and incarcerate our way out of the nation’s drug problem. Instead, it builds on decades of research demonstrating that while law enforcement should always remain a vital piece to protecting public safety, addiction is a brain disorder—one that can be prevented and treated, and from which people recover.
 Watch the release of the Strategy live today, Wednesday, July 9th, at 10 a.m. EST.
Data have shown that in several major U.S. counties, crime and substance use are linked. Most recently, we saw that in five counties, one-third or more of adult male arrestees tested positive for an illicit substance at the time of their arrest. Only one-quarter or fewer of all arrestees had ever participated in any outpatient drug or alcohol treatment and less than 30% had ever participated in any inpatient drug or alcohol treatment. Many of these men will be caught in a painful cycle of arrest, incarceration, substance use disorders, and re-arrest. Our prisons and jails are already overcrowded with people who desperately need compassionate, evidence-based treatment for the disease of addiction--not a jail cell.
The plan we released today calls for reforming our criminal justice system to find alternatives to incarceration – and effective interventions across the entire system to get people the treatment they need.
Here’s the problem: far too often, for people who need it most, the criminal justice system can seem like the only way to get help for a substance use disorder. That’s because until recently, prohibitively high costs and limited access to treatment put it out of reach for millions of people in need.
We know that only about 10 percent of people with a diagnosable substance use disorder actually receives treatment at a specialty facility. While several factors contribute to this abysmal statistic, much of that disparity is owed to a lack of healthcare coverage – and that’s about to change. Through a rule made possible by the Affordable Care Act, we are requiring insurers to treat substance use disorders in the same way they would any other chronic disease. Specifically, this new rule expands coverage of mental health and substance use disorder services to 62 million Americans.
The plan we released today calls on healthcare providers to prevent and treat addictive disorders just like they would treat any other chronic disorder, like diabetes or heart disease. It calls on law enforcement, courts, and doctors to collaborate with each other to treat addiction as a public health issue, not a crime.
We chose to release the 2014 Strategy in Roanoke because, in three important ways, it’s a microcosm of the policies our office has been promoting since 2009:

  1. Access to treatment, a focus on prevention, and compassion. Roanoke is home to one of the largest behavioral healthcare centers in the region. The center is co-located with a Drug Free Communities coalition, which prevents substance use among at-risk youth, and a program called Project Link, which helps opioid-dependent women and pregnant mothers get treatment and give birth to drug-free babies.
  2. Alternatives to incarceration. In 2011, the Roanoke Police Department worked with community and faith leaders in the Hurt Park neighborhood to shut down the open-air drug market operating there and drastically reduce violent crime in the area. As part of this intervention, community leaders came together to offer the low-level, non-violent drug offenders involved in the sweep a life-changing alternative: either face prosecution and lengthy sentences, or change your lives with the support of the community. In Roanoke, I met with one of those ex-offenders who is now employed full-time and caring for his family.
  3. Local solutions for local challenges. In a corner building in downtown Roanoke operates a community action center with roots in President Lyndon Johnson’s landmark anti-poverty legislation. Half a century ago, local leaders established what is now called Total Action for Progress (TAP), which operates 30 programs in the Roanoke Valley region aimed at improving employment opportunities at-risk youth, early childhood development, and re-entry and support services for veterans. I visited TAP to speak with young people and a veteran whose lives have been changed by these programs, and was inspired by their stories of hope. 
Like the rest of the country, Roanoke has seen a devastating rise in heroin and prescription painkiller abuse. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drug overdose deaths surpass homicides and traffic crashes in the number of injury deaths in America.[1] In 2011, more than 110 Americans, on average, died from overdose every day. Prescription painkillers were involved in over 16,900 deaths that year. Heroin was involved in more than 4,300.[2]
In response to this opioid epidemic, this Strategy updates the President’s 2011 Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention Plan by calling for increased access to naloxone, a lifesaving overdose-reversal medication.
The widespread use of naloxone in the hands of law enforcement, firefighters and emergency medical personnel will save lives. It can also serve as a critical intervention point to get people into treatment and on the path to recovery.
Today, there are millions of Americans in recovery from substance use disorders who are healthy, responsible, and engaged members of their communities. The Strategy outlines steps to help lift the stigma associated with substance use disorders. It also works to reform the laws and regulations that impede recovery from substance use disorders, including those that place obstacles in the way of housing, employment, and obtaining a driver’s license or student loan because of a prior conviction for a drug-related offense.
The National Drug Control Strategy released today is rooted in the belief that illicit drug use is a public health issue, not just a criminal justice problem. As the innovative law enforcement and social support programs in Roanoke prove, this philosophy can reduce illicit drug use while building healthier, safer, more vibrant communities.