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, January 26, 2007

Jails Are Full! Now What?

It was a great rally, we had nearly 100 people-plus the press-crammed into the media room at the capitol. Very little air, a room full of emotion, and a sense of hope. There does seem to be a change on the horizon. And a welcome change it is.

The speakers focused on solutions and were well received by the audience. We reached across the political spectrum today to deliver a message and it was wonderful to have so many allies and friends in the audience standing with us. We are deeply grateful for your support and I wanted to take a moment to thank everyone involved.

I have reprinted the article from Channel 13 news here.

Group Hopes To Change Criminal Justice Problems
"Jails Are Full-- What Now?" Rally In Denver

Posted: 7:44 PM, Jan. 26, 2007

By Joe Dominguez

The search is on for solutions to jail and prison problems throughout the state. A large coalition of victim advocates, criminal justice system leaders and elected officials has formed with the hope that their effort can help the failing jail system marred by high costs and too many inmates.

"There's no coincidence that this is the 4th greatest spending item for Colorado and we are the 4th fastest growing prison population per capita in the US," says State Representative Buffie McFadyen, who was there for the "Jails Are Full-What Now?" press conference on Friday. "I am ashamed."

The swell of inmates into Colorado prisons is creating a ripple effect that even recent inmates can recognize. Dan Markin has seen the worst that can happen when prisons are not equipped with enough guards to handle the volume.

"They brought the Washington inmates down in 1994 and we told them don't do that: you don't have the support staff, guards, [or] infrastructure to do it," he says. "They didn't listen."

All those concerns surfaced in the 2004 riot at the Crowley County Correctional Facility. Markin was incarcerated there during the uprising and he says safety continued to be a concern after order was restored and out-of-state inmates were returned back to the state they committed their crimes.

Riots are not they only concern though. At the county level, mandatory sentencing is partly to blame for a change in policy making it easier for some offenders to get out of jail sooner in El Paso County. The moratorium on locking up non-violent misdemeanor offenses has been in place since the end of August 2006. It hasn't kept the county from seeing a record number offenders spending time in the Criminal Justice Center. As of the end of the week, only a few dozen spaces were available for male offenders and half a dozen beds open for women. It's the highest ‘no-vacancy' rate El Paso County has ever seen.

"Right now the system is more geared toward failure," says Sheriff Terry Maketa. "When we fail (when government fails, when law enforcement, corrections fail) the citizens are the ones who suffer."

Prisoners say they're being cheated by the system as well. Years ago procedures were in place to help them succeed once they are released. Without those programs, Markin says he saw many released convicts make their way back to Crowley county over the years, which adds to the burden on the criminal justice system.

"Now the [Department of Corrections] just dumps you back into the world; they say ‘here's your release date see you!" Markin says. He adds that the high number of reoffenders creates a bias in the community when it comes to hiring ex-cons. He believes little trust exists and opportunities for released prisoners to get out of the reoffending cycle have diminished over the last few years.

Another issue to surface in Friday's press conference is being addressed through House Bill 1129. Sponsored by Manitou Springs Democrat Mike Merrifield, the measure hopes to keep teens from falling into the criminal justice system by offering a better more positive treatment plan for offenders. Merrifield calls the restorative justice program an ounce of prevention for a pound of cure.

"If we don't use these ounces of investment the whole system is going to sink under the weight of its own burden," says Merrifield.

Governor Bill Ritter's inclusion of the criminal justice system problems, specifically the recidivism issue, in his State of the State give the "Jails Are Full-What Now?" group hope that a plan will be in place soon to control these issues.

The group consists of many different organizations including the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, Colorado CURE, The Pendulum Foundation and the Youth Transformation Center just to name a few. Even they admit with so many groups under one umbrella they won't agree on all solutions but say the time for being mindlessly tough on crime is over. Christie Donner from the Justice Reform Coalition says that means less convicts returned to prison for technical violations filling up much needed space. State Representative Cheri Jahn says she'll work on setting up a Juvenile Clemency Board, which got a well-received reception from the pro-reform crowd. Bottom line though-- if Colorado continues to spend what it has recently on prisons and the criminal justice system you can expect the state to fork over one billion dollars in the name of locking up criminals by the year 2012.

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