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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.

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Saturday, March 17, 2007

When the Systems Fail Completely

Lafayette officers dealt with family six times last year

Six times in 2006 Lafayette police officers encountered the same troubled family - an alcoholic Linda Damm and her out-of-control daughter, Tess - but apparently never forwarded the case to the county's department of social services.

Tess Damm is one of four teenagers who have been implicated in the stabbing death of Linda Damm.

Paula McKey, director of the Boulder County Department of Social Services, launched an exhaustive search of records, including phone and fax logs, in an effort to determine whether her office was ever notified that Lafayette officers had repeated contact with the teenager and her mother.

"In this case we could find no referral," said Barb Halpin, a spokeswoman for Boulder County. That despite two Lafayette police reports indicating that officers believed the department of social services should intervene. In both instances, the officers had encountered Tess out late at night or early in the morning, then returned her home to find her mother apparently intoxicated.

Lafayette Police Chief Paul Schultz and Cmdr. Rick Bashor, the department's spokesman, did not return messages left at their offices Friday.

"We've seen the police reports," Halpin said. "We've seen that their intention was to pass it along. Something broke down somewhere."

In one of the incidents, the officer who dealt with Tess and her mother wrote: "Please forward a copy of this report to the Department of Social Services."

"If they have been involved that much in the criminal justice system and no one has done any assessments or started to provide intervention for them, then that is a huge, gaping hole in our criminal justice and social services systems," said Bill Woodward of the University of Colorado's Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence.

'The system . . . did fail'

Linda Damm was stabbed to death in early February, stuffed in the back of her Subaru, and briefly buried in a cemetery, according to court records. Late Feb. 27, officers responding to an anonymous call found her decomposing body in the car parked in the garage of her Lafayette home.

Her daughter's boyfriend, 17-year-old Bryan Grove, has been charged in her killing.

Tess Damm, 15, and Jared Guy, 18, face charges of being accessories. A fourth teen, Jared Smith, 16, has been implicated in helping move Linda Damm's body after the slaying.

"The system absolutely did fail," said Mary Ellen Johnson of the Pendulum Foundation, a group that advocates more lenient treatment of juveniles suspected of serious crimes. "This could have been prevented, and it wasn't."

Linda Damm, whose separation and subsequent divorce left her to raise Tess alone, struggled for years to face her problems with alcohol.

In a statement released by her family after her death, Linda Damm was described as "a functioning alcoholic for many years."

"However," the statement said, "the last few years Linda found her addiction more and more difficult to deal with. We supported and encouraged her recent efforts to get help, but Linda was not able to conquer her addiction."

Rocky Mountain News

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