Bad policy decisions and budget cuts hurt people. Colorado's policy of catch and release and catch again has caught up with us and has hurt thousands of people in the process. We are a state full of collateral consequences. People caught up in the system who could have been caught up to and resucitated years ago have continually fallen through the cracks. Read Ann Imse's report on Dunston Sidner and realize that his story echoes throughout the Department of Corrections.
Dunston Sidner, like many felons with drug addictions and mental illness, has received little treatment, repeatedly fails parole and ends up back behind bars. So far, he's cost taxpayers at least $200,000. The state Department of Corrections hasn't done much to increase his odds of making it. Twice, prison officials released him to a homeless shelter packed with other addicted felons and surrounded by drug dealers. Last time, he was let loose without his psychiatric medications. He lasted barely a week before wandering off, a parole violation.
Figuring out how to keep Sidner and others like him - minor criminals, drug addicts, the mentally ill - from returning to prison is one key to solving Colorado's corrections crisis.
The state's prison population is soaring five times faster than the national average. Taxpayers are facing an $800 million bill for new state prisons over the next five years, and that doesn't include the cost of running them.
Colorado's new governor and legislators have made it clear they aren't happy about this.
"The costs (of prisons) are spiraling out of control and eating into our ability to fund education and health care," Gov. Bill Ritter said in his State of the State speech days after taking office."I can't stand in front of a judge and say, 'I won't do this anymore,' " he says
Dunston Sidner is well-spoken and polite as he sits in the Denver jail. He's honest about his mental problems and addiction.
Somehow, he stayed out of serious trouble with the law from 1980 to 1995.
But on the evening of March 4, 1995, Denver police picked him up for loitering at 22nd and Stout streets. They found one-hundredth of an ounce of crack in his pocket.
That was the beginning of 12 years in and out of prisons and jails.