My Sentencing Commission guru Michael Connelly has gone through our Sentencing Commission Bill and offers this review. We appreciate his thoroughness and thoughtfulness
in taking the time to review the document and give us his take. HB 1358 starts it's long trek through the Capitol next Wednesday when it is scheduled to be heard in Judiciary.
I can’t say enough good about this bill. Its focus is on building an evidence-based foundation for determining what works best to reduce recidivism and victimization. Not one word about guidelines, so it avoids all the politics and problems of that. Links the new commission to Kim English’s exemplary research and evaluation unit. Has a juvenile justice expert as a required member, showing that the authors understand fully where real reduction of future crime and costs will come most from. Clear mission statement that members will be bound to: “To enhance public safety, to ensure justice, and to ensure protections of the rights of victims through the cost-effective use of public resources.” Gets it exactly right. Protect the public and rights of victims through cost-effective use of public resources. And makes its duties the collection and dissemination of what’s cost-effective and what’s not. The only negative in the bill is that the commission is sunsetted after 5 years, which just hands its opponents, who will be many if it’s successful, a fully-loaded weapon and encourages them and recalcitrant agencies that don’t want to change to hold out until the commission gets whacked. But, if the commission addresses those threats directly and strongly from the beginning, it may be able to prove its worthiness for permanence, so that’s not a deal-killer.
Think what is possible in CO if this passes. Real evaluation of programs, treatments, sentences themselves. If a 3-year sentence accomplishes as much in lowered recidivism and victimization as a 5-year sentence at lower cost to taxpayers, then policymakers will have to address that. If the 5-year sentence gets more of each, then the extra dollars involved may look more affordable. Probation achieve as much reduction of recidivism and victims as prison for this type of offender or offense? Okay, then, what do we do? If some sentences can be established as more effective than others (and I do have my doubts generally, which raises whole other questions about what we think we’re doing with sentencing, but that’s another post), then we can hold courts and their practitioners just as or more accountable for what they’re doing with disparity, justice, effectiveness than if we had guidelines to which conformity was expected.