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.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Direct File Destroying Children's Lives

In the early nineties in a knee-jerk reaction to the "Summer of Violence" lawmakers took the decision out of judges hands whether to treat children as children, or children as adults. They put that decision into the hands of District Attorneys. District Attorney's are prosecutors who are elected and may or may not have a political agenda.

Near the end of a day cruising northeast Denver and Aurora while draining three 40-ounce bottles and a six-pack of beer, 16-year-old Dietrick Mitchell turned a corner.

Seconds later, the car he was driving slammed into 17-year-old Danny Goetsch as he walked in the gutter along East 13th Avenue with two friends strolling on the sidewalk and the grass.

Goetsch died.

Mitchell kept driving - didn't slow, didn't stop the car. He turned himself in two days later.

Shortly after the August 1991 incident, Arapahoe County prosecutors bypassed juvenile court and charged Mitchell as an adult. A jury found him guilty of murder with extreme indifference, and suddenly Mitchell, who insisted the hit-and-run was an accident, began serving a mandatory sentence of life without parole.

Prosecutors call it an appropriate prosecution of murder. Critics call it a prime example of how the adult system turns teens who could be rehabilitated into "throwaways."

"Had they kept him in the juvenile system, he could have been treated for the alcoholism that caused the death," says Carrie Thompson, one of the public defenders who initially handled Mitchell's case. "But decisions were made that this kid was a throwaway, that he didn't matter. To say that about a 16-year-old with alcohol problems is ridiculous. He was salvageable. But the minute you direct-file, you say he's unsalvageable."

Mitchell put a face on a controversial trend in Colorado that reaches back to the early 1990s: Lawmakers equipped prosecutors to put increasing numbers of teens on a path to prison while slashing juvenile programs geared toward rehabilitation.

Between 2001 and 2005, funding for state juvenile justice programs was cut by nearly $30 million, according to the state Division of Criminal Justice. Even a "middle ground" program for violent young offenders created within the Department of Corrections suffered.

The Denver Post

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