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.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Ending The Cycle Of Crime: Ex-Cons Get A Hand

Changing the culture of how people are supervised is more effective than punitive supervision in Arizona.

A new approach to parole in Arizona began with thousands of colored pushpins and a large state map.

In 2003, prison officials set out to find new ways to keep released inmates from going back behind bars. So they began to map where the more than 30,000 Arizona inmates had lived before they were locked up and where they might return.

What they found were a handful of hot spots around the state, including south Phoenix - home to about 1 percent of the state's population but nearly 6.5 percent of state prisoners....

Together, the programs, similar to changes being made in several other states, move community supervision away from the zero-tolerance approach of recent years - when missed parole meetings, poor work habits or socializing with other former inmates could quickly land a person back behind bars. Instead, officers take a more comprehensive approach that seeks to address underlying problems, such as poverty, unemployment, substance abuse and mental illness.

While it's too early to say whether the program will help break the cycle of crime, officials are optimistic about cutting crime and prison costs.

Among the changes:

• Parole officers team up with state social workers, working out of the same offices, to make it easier for former inmates and their families to get services such as health insurance, unemployment or disability benefits and food stamps.

• Barriers that tended to frustrate former inmates have been lifted. Parole officers now meet with inmates in prison and then go to their homes, instead of making parolees come to them. Rules that are particularly difficult to follow, such as not socializing with other former inmates, have been softened.

• Instead of waiting for people to make mistakes, officers offer help more consistently: rehab for drug addicts, job training for someone who can't find employment, counseling to conquer issues with violence.

• Churches, schools and other community groups are brought into the mix in recognition that the cycle of crime and incarceration takes a toll on the health of an entire community.