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.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Is There Really A Change In The Air?

Pros and Ex-Cons
Colorado's prison population has doubled in the past 10 years, with half of those released winding back up behind bars. It's a grim equation, one rife with postulations about convicts and their keepers in the Department of Corrections. And it's likely to get worse.

Gov. Bill Ritter knows this, and so do his prison employees. But so far, the governor has done little to alter it. His first legislative season revealed a checkered approach to prison transformation, which has advocacy groups wondering where the self-proclaimed reformer truly stands.

"We feel there should be revolutionary change," says Mary Ellen Johnson of the Pendulum Foundation, a juvenile justice center in Denver. "We can't continue building more prisons. If we do, we are going to destroy our higher education and we won't have room for alternative energy or other visions that the governor has. We want [legislators] to come up with alternatives so DOC doesn't keep expanding."

Early in his first term, Ritter voiced his commitment to reducing recidivism. Then he vetoed two bills designed to work toward that end (one to seal criminal records and another to help ex-cons get IDs).

He also, however, signed into law the creation of the Colorado Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice, a 26-member board of legislators, public-safety employees and others that will examine the crisis and draft solutions, which could range from reformed sentencing law to alternatives to incarceration.

Change of plans

Prisoner advocacy groups at first applauded the commission. But Department of Corrections officials recently and unexpectedly cited the commission when they declined to participate in an upcoming recidivism workshop scheduled in Colorado Springs. DOC officials indicated they wanted to wait and see what the commission comes up with, prison advocates say they were told.

The conference, sponsored by the UCCS Violence Intervention and Prevention Center, had been planned for three days in mid-September. DOC director Ari Zavaras was invited to speak, but he turned down the request. So did Department of Public Safety director Pete Weir.

Asked to clarify Zavaras' position on the conference, DOC spokeswoman Katherine Sanguinetti says Zavaras will not participate as a member of the commission, but would be willing to join as a DOC official.

VIP affiliates, meanwhile, say Zavaras declined to join in any capacity. Without DOC's participation, they cut the all-encompassing conference to a one-day workshop on sentencing reform.

The prison advocacy groups involved are trying to remain positive.

"We are the voice of the people and we have to be," says Johnson. "If the government declines to have anything to do with this, that is OK. As the voice of the people, we have to move forward with being heard."

Done before

The state commission will be made up largely of government employees, with four legislators, one juvenile justice representative and one victims' rights envoy. There are few spaces for prisoner advocates, not to mention ex-cons or other citizens.

"I would strive for half [government employees] and half [citizens]," says Jody Glittenberg, a VIP board member, when asked what kind of commission makeup she'd like to see.

VIP affiliates are still deciding which prisoner-advocacy groups should apply to be part of the commission, since not all of them can fit.

"We don't want to be stymied," says Johnson. "We have been going around in circles for years and years and years. We have to break out of that. We had hoped that we could be a part of breaking out of that. We will continue doing what we can do and hope that they will appreciate our efforts down the road."

The new commission is reminiscent of an older board that was dissolved 13 years ago, when the General Assembly questioned its effectiveness. The first commission was established during former Gov. Roy Romer's tenure, in response to the 1993 "Summer of Violence" in which 36 teens were killed in homicides.

The commission, which included few community members, aimed to cut back on crime by toughening sentencing laws. The board addressed juvenile justice issues, creating an incarceration/study program for young offenders. But it also lowered the age at which a minor could be tried as an adult.

After the commission disbanded, the situation only worsened in DOC.

"Whoever they are, there will be many of the same problems," says Dottie Wham, a former legislator on the old board, speaking of the new commission. "These problems whirl around you. What are you going to do about kids in gangs? What are you going to do about money? How are you going to get the people behind you to let you do what needs to be done, rather than throw everybody in prison?"

Grassroots efforts

While the commission will muddle through those and other questions, community groups on the ground have started to take action of their own.

The Youth Transformation Center in Colorado Springs coordinates a local restorative justice program to get youth offenders to talk with their victims. A young perpetrator, the injured party, an arbitrator and several witnesses discuss the crime and its consequences, deciding upon appropriate restitution for the victim. The young person can't change the nature of his or her punishment through the discussion, a caveat that allows the victim and perpetrator to speak honestly about what happened.

The adolescents are pushed to view their crime in the context of their society, an approach that YTC representatives say should be extended to adult prisoners in DOC as well.

"We ban [adult prisoners] from the community that should be helping them," says YTC director Jeannette Holtham.

Two weeks ago, Ritter signed a bill to bring restorative justice programs for youth offenders to localities throughout the state.

But for adult convicts, especially for those leaving prison without jobs, IDs or even housing, change is slow in coming. Ritter's piecemeal efforts to reduce recidivism might not pan out. But then again, they may.

"It takes a long time to cook that egg," says Glittenberg. "The state has a lot of work to do. He didn't close the door on dialogue. He sees his role as an arbitrator of different views.

"I keep saying, "Never give up.'" — naomi@csindy.com

Colorado Springs Independent


David H. Lukenbill said...

All too many of the commissions set up by government rarely involve former prisoners in their work, and from my perspective, that is largely why most of their work remains as dusty reports on dusty shelfs.

You are right, never give up, just keep doing the work.

Take care.

David H. Lukenbill
LampStand Foundation

Anonymous said...

When he vetoes even a small step for some former felons, it is highly suspect that sending this issue to a committee is anything more than a political game.
The administration is now playing the games about the "laws" prevent them from doing a better job. The last "committee" did not do a very good job, and was manipulated by the politicians and business, who have the real power in this state.

Anonymous said...

說起這位明英宗朱祁鎮 真是好有一比:在北京高峰時酒店經紀段開車:生不完的氣。

先說年號問題,明朝皇帝在位時間再長, 酒店兼差年號也只有一個,惟獨他特殊,在位總共不過十五年,年號卻有兩個,前一個叫正統,後一個叫天順。倒不是因為他非要搞特權,兩個年號之間, 禮服店是由一大堆可氣的事串起來的。

先說正統朝,差不多是地球酒店打工人都知道的,這麼多的忠良幹才他不信任,偏寵信一個教書先生出身的太監王振, 一幹閹党把國家禍害得烏煙瘴氣。後來瓦剌犯邊,忠臣良將的苦勸不聽,偏聽死太監攛掇,非要御駕親徵, 合法酒店經紀帶著幾十萬人牛氣哄哄出了長城,按說既然親徵你就好好 打啊,他不,走到半道又後悔了,連敵人影 酒店工作都沒見著就撤兵,撤兵麼撤得快點啊,跑還沒跑成,讓人家圍在土木堡包了餃子,稀裏糊塗一場 酒店上班混戰,幾十萬大軍全死 光,連本人也當了俘虜。丟人到如此,實在可氣。

英宗被抓到蒙古高原上去啃生羊肉了, 酒店兼職爛賬總要有人收拾。皇帝讓人綁了,敵人打到家門口了,總不成學宋朝 來個衣冠南渡吧!還好喝酒 有他親弟弟給他收拾,弟弟朱祁鈺繼承帝位,改年號為景泰,可氣的正統朝總算結束了。景泰帝信用 酒店PT良臣于謙,成功組織北京保衛戰打垮敵 人,再運用外交壓力,逼得酒店喝酒 瓦剌把英宗放回來當太上皇,總算不用學宋徽宗那樣客死他鄉。折騰半天,祖宗江山差點丟了不說 禮服酒店,皇位也折騰沒了。這樣的鬧劇,怪不 得別人。

雖是傻事敗事一籮筐,但傻人總算有傻福,雖說皇位沒了, 台北酒店經紀命還是保住了,回來舒舒服服過太上皇的日子倒也 不交際應酬 錯,可他不消停,拉幫結派培植私人勢力,幾年後趁著弟弟病重搞了場“奪門之變”。奪粉味 回了皇位不說,上臺第一件事就是殺掉了功臣于謙。並把當初北京保衛戰 的功臣們來了個大清洗,掌握朝政大權的都是徐有貞、石亨、曹吉祥等一幫姦險小人。雖然過了沒幾年,這幾個人也被明英宗清算,下獄的下獄(石亨),充軍的充 軍(徐有貞) 寒假打工,被殺的被殺(曹吉祥),可明朝的政治氣象,還是一片烏煙瘴氣。

皇位奪回來了,自然就要改年號。於是,明英宗 兼差改年號為天順。從正統年到天順年,打敗仗,殺忠良,寵小人,亂國家,儘是他辦的敗事, 酒店小姐每每讀史到此,不知有多少人氣得 酒店公關直哆嗦。

可正統朝的事畢竟年頭遠了,真正給後 暑假打工世攢下麻煩的,是天順朝。

“天順”麼,按字面意思,自然有風調雨順的意思。 打工從這個意義上說,“天順”朝時代的明朝,運氣還真不 壞,別的且不說,單說綁過明英宗票的瓦剌,那在土木堡創下台北酒店經紀擊敗明朝幾十萬大軍,活捉明朝皇帝偉業的瓦剌首領也先,沒死在大對頭明朝手裏,倒在內戰中被一刀 砍死。到了天順朝時期,瓦剌又和鄰居韃靼打個不停,因此,雖然少了良將於謙,但終天順一朝的邊 酒店境形勢,還算是太平無事。