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 07, 2007

Small Town America - Big City Gangs

GREELEY - They might look like blue jeans and a white T-shirt to anyone else. But for Adolfo "Li'l Grim" Rodriguez, they are an essential part of his daily uniform.

His expletive-laced speech, defiant attitude and blue bandana that usually hangs from his back pocket define who he is and what he says he represents.

The 19-year-old says he has been a member of a Hispanic street gang for the past eight years.

In that time, Rodriguez has survived a bullet and spent months in juvenile detention and the county jail. He proudly admits he's a gang member in Greeley.

He was "jumped" in by other gang members and began "flying a rag" from his back pocket while he was still in elementary school, he says. Suddenly, the codes of the street were as important, or more, than spelling and long division.

Rural problem, too

Talk gang violence, and many people think of larger cities, such as Denver and Aurora.

But authorities say violence and the lure of street gangs don't just happen in urban centers. Rural communities, like Greeley, are also grappling with them. And in turn, so are the small towns that border them.

Along Greeley's southern boundary, the city of Evans, population 19,000, worries about the effects of gangs spilling over.

"(Gangs) don't know the difference between Evans and Greeley," Evans police Lt. Gary Kessler said. "Gang members don't care about jurisdictions."

The problems in Evans are still relatively limited. Police Sgt. Tracy Moore estimated that there were fewer than 50 gang incidents last year. Fewer than a dozen constituted major crimes.

Nonetheless, there are concerns - and the need, police say, for continual communication.

"The same people we deal with are the same people (Greeley) deals with," Moore said. "We don't want to be redundant."

Three years after a particularly troubling rash of violent gang-related crimes, Greeley officials are optimistic they've got their problems under control.

"We would admit that we have a gang presence that most cities do," said Police Chief Jerry Garner. "That's just kind of a fact of life today."

But Garner and Greeley Mayor Tom Selders insist their community is safe.

Violent crime statistics for 2006 show a marked downward trend. Armed robberies, burglaries and thefts were down, in percentages ranging from 17 percent to 44 percent. Rape was the only crime that went up.

Gang-related violence, including homicides, aggravated assaults and burglaries, decreased by more than half, from an all-time high of 44 in 2004 to 17 in 2006, police say.

Nonetheless, some officers and community leaders say there is little room to celebrate.Rocky Mountain News