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.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Bills Aimed At Giving Young Felons A Chance

Democratic lawmakers are trying to move Colorado back toward mercy for young felons by undoing some of the penalties born from the 1993 Summer of Violence — punishments that rank among the toughest in the nation.

A slate of bills would make juveniles less likely to serve life in adult jails, less likely to be judged as competent to stand trial as adults and more likely to receive second chances through child-tailored rehabilitation programs.

Critics say leniency with the most-heinous child felons endangers public safety and takes power from law enforcement working to curb gang violence and other scourges.

But lawmakers such as Rep. Claire Levy — armed with studies saying the juvenile brain is not fully developed — say teenagers have time to turn their lives around.

"They're so immature, so impulsive," said Levy, D-Boulder. "They are not capable of fully comprehending the gravity of their actions or long- term consequences."

Levy's bill would allow 14- and 15-year-old defendants to ask a judge — instead of a prosecutor — to decide whether they should be tried as adults.

Levy said Colorado is one of seven states that give their district attorneys sole discretion to prosecute adolescents as either juveniles — sending them into child-centric alternative programs — or as adults, who often land in state prisons.

Abuse potential seen

Public defenders say that that power can be abused and judges should have the option to require that kids stay in the juvenile system.

Of Denver's 134 teens eligible to be tried as adults last year, 13 faced adult courts, according to the district attorney's office.

At least 1,244 cases have resulted in juvenile convictions in adult courts between 1998 and 2006, the year that The Denver Post analyzed state court administrator data.

A district attorney's choice to seek adult punishments "is a tool they use judiciously," said Ted Tow, executive director of the Colorado District Attorney's Council. "We're talking about brutal assaults, aggravated assaults, rapes," he said. "Those bills . . . are simply bad for public safety."

Prosecutors did not always have powers so broad. Before 1993, teenage felons 16 years or older could be tried as adults for only the most serious crimes or if they were repeat offenders.

But stray bullets loosed during 1993's so-called Summer of Violence shook the public. Gang violence raged across Denver, hitting unintended targets. A 5-year-old boy was shot in a drive-by, and a bullet struck a 10-month-old on a visit to the Denver Zoo.

The ensuing three years saw laws allowing more teens — as young as 14 — to be tried as adults and for more offenses. Vehicular assaults and homicides were added to the list, among others.

Life sentences

Colorado has sent more than 18 of every 100,000 teens ages 14-17 to prison for life, according to research from advocacy groups Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. As of 2006, a dozen other states had more people serving life sentences for youth crimes.

In 2006, Colorado lawmakers repealed life without parole for juveniles.

The Denver Post


Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, this should be put into place. Yesterday's article about the attitude of the District Attorney that locking people up for the rest of their lives is a good public policy, shows how out of touch this Colorado judicial system is with compassion and correction.

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