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.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Expand Community Corrections

Mike McCarthy is a CCJRC member who has written this intriguing piece.

Denver businesses value job applicants who are former offenders. Now, if only we can get the state more fully involved in the operation of community corrections facilities, everyone would benefit.

As soon as I enter the office of a prospective employer, my daily job search begins: "I'm here to fill out an application for employment, but first may I use your telephone?"

The receptionist generally says, "The pay phone is over there."

To which I reply, "I'm residing at a community corrections facility. I must call in from a land line for verification."

I can hear the receptionist thinking: "I wonder if this creep raped or killed someone?" Still, she usually smiles.

This is part of the accountability and tracking method to assure that we are not just roaming around getting into trouble. It's one of the dozens of quirky rules of the system. But it is worth the inconvenience.

Colorado employers have been extremely cooperative and understanding toward such requirements. Not only are they patient in the verification and interview process, but they have hired thousands of ex-offenders like myself.

Back in August 2005, I failed to return a rental car. It was three weeks past the due date. I totaled the vehicle in an accident involving a herd of elk, killing three of the animals.

In Summit County Court, I pleaded guilty to theft. Because I had prior property crime offenses, I received a three-year state prison sentence.

I recognize that stealing is serious business and that I must pay full monetary restitution. So, in my case, community corrections makes sense.

I spent two-thirds of my time at a minimum security prison. Recently, I was transferred to Independence House North, a privately owned community corrections house.

The latest fiscal year's budget earmarked $705 million to the Colorado Department of Corrections. This amount is nearly 10 percent of the entire state budget.

It is projected that at the current prison population growth rate, an additional $720 million in new prison construction will be needed over the next five years.

On average, it costs approximately $30,000 a year to house one state prisoner. This is three times the annual cost of tuition, books, fees, and room and board at a Colorado state college.

Our top elected officials realize that Colorado cannot afford to fund prison expansion and fulfill its future growth objectives simultaneously. Every increase in corrections spending equates to less money for vital core state programming: education, Medicaid, transportation, energy, and infrastructure improvements.

Presently, all of Colorado's community corrections' houses are privately owned and for profit. There is not enough bed space for those who qualify. For every prisoner accepted, six others must be turned away, due to space constraints.

Taxpayers bear the burden of this plight, both monetarily and in lost state programs.

Every day between 200 and 300 prisoners are released. Many leave homeless, with only $100 gate money, and are expected to survive, expected to obey all of the laws. This is wishful thinking.

Adding community correction facilities would give newly released prisoners a fighting chance to get on their feet. Obtain employment. Create needed savings. And most importantly, allow more inmates the opportunity to get a fresh start.

Many of the minimum security state prisons could be converted, in part, into managed community housing for ex-offenders.

Ninety-five percent of all state prisoners will be released one day. How they are released is up to Colorado citizens: doomed for failure, or with every opportunity for success.

Having the state manage community corrections centers in conjunction with privately owned facilities is a prudent economic measure.

The Denver Post

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