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, December 28, 2007

2008 Looms As A Year Of Reckoning For CA Prison Crisis

The crisis-fueled momentum that produced a nearly $8 billion prison-spending plan earlier this year has lost some of its steam, leaving the state vulnerable to federal judges ordering an early release of inmates.

California has fallen behind in its race to relieve the overcrowded conditions in its state prisons by adding thousands of cells, and time is running out to produce results.

A special panel of federal judges will decide in 2008 whether the state should be forced to address its overcrowding by releasing some prisoners early.

"This is a chain of broken promises," state Sen. Mike Machado, D-Linden, said of the state's construction and parole delays. "I think the court is going to look at it and say, 'There's no commitment here to do anything.'"

A three-judge panel was created in July by federal courts in Sacramento and San Francisco, and is charged with solving a problem that has eluded lawmakers and state prison officials for years.

The judges plan an initial trial to decide if crowding is delaying efforts to improve inmate medical services and mental health care. If they find that to be the case, they would conduct a second trial to decide how to release inmates to relieve the crowding.

They also could cap the prison population, perhaps keeping thousands of convicts at county jails that, in many cases, have their own space crunch.

Conservative state lawmakers who support the building program say they plan to fight any decision to let prisoners out on the street before they have served their full sentences.

Machado, who leads the state Senate's prison oversight efforts, is critical of corrections officials for moving too slowly to adopt parole reforms and other provisions in a $7.8 billion prison- and jail-building program. It was approved by the Legislature in April and subsequently signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The corrections department originally projected it could have the first new cellblocks built by early 2009, but now projects construction will take an extra year.

One reason is that lawmakers did not give the department the fast-track authority it requested, said Deborah Hysen, the department's chief deputy secretary for facility planning and construction management.

In addition, the original cellblock designs had to be redrawn to include more space for rehabilitation programs, and the department is adding more high-security cells.

Building at some prisons will require extensive infrastructure upgrades, such as extending water and sewer lines, projects that take extra time and money.

The department also is reconsidering its plan to add the cells within each prison's secure perimeter because it appears quicker and cheaper to build most of the lower-security housing outside the main prison walls, Hysen said.

"Glitches, hiccups, delays — I wouldn't characterize it in that fashion," she said. "They are just dates that were unrealistic in some cases."

The law provides money to build cellblocks at existing prisons to hold an additional 16,000 inmates, and new mini-prisons called "re-entry centers" for another 16,000 inmates who are nearing release.

SF Gate

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