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.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Justice Fails Kids When Prosecutors Are in Charge

Judges should be in charge when it comes to deciding the fate of children. Not prosecutors.

Read the Denver Post editorial here.

The two teens allegedly responsible for a horrible murder in Lafayette probably deserve to be tried as adults. But a judge, not a prosecutor, should have made the call.

The Colorado law that allowed the Boulder County district attorney to put 17-year-old Bryan Grove and 15-year-old Tess Damm on trial as adults contradicts much of what America's criminal justice system stands for.

Letting elected DAs whose jobs depend on seeming tough on crime unilaterally move juveniles into adult court ensures that justice is not blind. It also ignores presumed innocence, rehabilitation and a whole bunch of other crucial concepts.

There's every reason to let an objective third party decide how these two teenagers get tried.

"I believe the best practice is not to have one of the attorneys doing the case make the decision," Ashby said.

The elected status of prosecutors just adds to their dilemma in deciding about adult charges, Ashby said.

"That's why you need a neutral party," the judge explained. "Most district attorneys are ethical. But it is a difficult position for an elected official."

This is not exactly radical thinking. It is the rule in many states, and it reflects the policy of the national organization of juvenile judges to which Ashby belongs. The need for judges to decide if juveniles are tried as adults recognizes the obvious: If you leave it up to prosecutors, they will almost always go with adult trials, the same way that if you left it up to defense attorneys, every teen perp would stay in the juvenile court system. That's how advocates properly operate.

Seven years in a prison facility is the most time you can get for the worst crime in juvenile sentencing, said defense attorney Kurt Metsger.

Eight years in the penitentiary is the least time you can get in a routine adult court sentencing for a Class 2 felony.

Of course, you don't do the crime if you can't do the time. But that is not how the fates of teen criminals are supposed to be determined in America.

Transfer hearings, where judges weigh arguments for trying juveniles as adults, are "absolutely necessary," Metsger said.

This isn't about coddling the likes of Bryan Grove and Tess Damm. It's about proving this country's justice system can meet its stated expectations.

Prosecutors may ask for transfer hearings by judges but almost never do.

The opposite should be true.

"We've not had a transfer hearing for 8 1/2 years," Ashby said of Denver's juvenile court. In that time, plenty of juveniles have been tried as adults.

It is the same across Colorado. Prosecutors motivated by their natural role determine if teenagers are tried where they can go to prison for decades, if not life.

"There's no guidance for the district attorneys to consider," Ashby said. "They may just look at the nature of the offense." By law, Ashby added, judges at transfer hearings must answer a list of questions about community interests, maturity, mental health and the like.

In the Colorado Revised Statutes, that list stretches a page and a half.

It is long because trying teens as adults is a serious call.

A lot more serious than leaving it up to prosecutors.

Denver Post Article here

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