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.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Spiraling Prison Budgets

The Denver Post

Red ink-smeared budgets are pushing an array of states — Virginia, Kentucky, California, Alabama, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, South Carolina among them — to consider early release of hundreds, possibly thousands of convicted criminals. Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter even wants to close down two prisons.

As Josh Goodman writes in Governing magazine, "Budget crises have a way of making the politically impossible suddenly possible." Even more significant, though, may be a wave of reassessment, from localities to state governments to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, about the effectiveness of America's vast criminal justice enterprise.

A primary reason is the sheer magnitude of our incarceration rates.

We have placed one in 100 adults 18 and over behind bars, a nationwide prisoner total of 2.3 million. Probation and parole swell the total to 7.2 million Americans under some form of criminal justice system supervision.

Why should we be incarcerating more people than do such regimes as China or Russia? The costs are eye-popping — $50 billion a year to state and local governments, and $5 billion to the federal prison system.

And what does it say about our priorities (and our future) when at least five states — Connecticut, Delaware, Michigan, Oregon and Vermont — spend as much or more on corrections as they do on higher education?

In Florida, where the prison system has surpassed 100,000 inmates, the call for reassessment is coming not only from Gov. Charlie Crist and the Center for Florida Fiscal & Tax Reform, but from such top business organizations as Associated Industries of Florida, Enterprise Florida, Florida TaxWatch and the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

It makes more sense, the Florida reformers suggest, to shift nonviolent offenders from prison (where they cost the state at least $20,000 a year each) to community probation, work release or parole where they are required to pay their court costs and fines, make restitution to their victims, and perhaps most importantly, keep up their child support payments.

Last year Congress broke from its unthinking "law and order" attitudes of the last decades to approve — with "aye" votes by both Sens. Obama and Biden — the "Second Chance Act" authorizing major grants to states and localities to help rehabilitate former offenders.

"After 20 years of going down the 'tough-on-crime' road and seeing what it has wrought, we now know better," declared Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., one of the act's backers. President Bush signed the law but failed to fund it, a decision the Obama administration is expected to reverse.

The "burden of proof" on corrections has shifted in today's tough economic climate, says Adam Gelb, director of the Pew Center on the States' Public Safety Performance Project.

For decades, the dominant case was that more prison cells were the best way to protect citizens against crime — indeed, anything short of prison was denigrated as "soft."

But now, beyond the cascading costs, says Gelb, "there's mounting evidence we have passed the point of diminishing returns for new prisons — indeed, the more people we lock up, the less we get for it in public safety." But if we "can't build our way to public safety," Gelb notes, there are huge gains to be had in community corrections.

He's referring to more thoughtful probation and parole systems, drug courts, transition centers and the like. "If we shift some of the funding from prisons to community corrections, we could spend less and have less crime," he insists.

But it won't work unless the community corrections are well planned and adequately funded. One reason parole and probation now so often flounder, fueling high recidivism rates, is that enforcement officers tend to hunker down in large, centrally located headquarters, failing to get into and know the communities and situations offenders live in.


Anonymous said...

Many inmates meet the Parole Board at least three times before they are finally set back to their Mandatory Release Dates (MRD). The Parole Board appears to want to keep the inmates locked up.

In the Fremont Correctional Facility (FCF) there are 600 inmates on the waiting list for the Sex Offender Treatment Program (SOTP) -- of those 600, 14 are enrolled in the SOTP EVERY OTHER MONTH. Inmates who have not been convicted of a sex offense in a court of law have been labeled as sex offenders by the DOC after a "hearing" by DOC employees. These inmates cannot be paroled until they complete Phase One and Phase Two of the SOTP! Remember, 600 on the waiting list with 14 enrolled in the SOTP every other month!

DOC needs to stop labeling inmates as sex offenders unless they have been convicted of a sex offense.

The State law changed in Colorado on July 1, 2008 so that inmates who have not been convicted of a sex offense cannot be labeled as a sex offender without a hearing in DOC led by a licensed attorney -- however, the law does not affect those who are already in the system.

The 600 people on the waiting list in Fremont are in addition to any other inmates in the DOC system in other facilities. If an inmate is on the waiting list, that inmate can be "bumped" to allow someone who has an earlier MRD so the list never really decreases.

Colorado residents should rise up against this system. Write to Ari Zavaras at DOC Headquarters at 2864 South Circle, Colo Spgs, CO 80906 or call him at 719-579-9580 or call Peggy Heil who is the Program Manager for DOC. Her office is in the Arrowhead Prison. Her direct line is 719-269-5653 or the main number to Arrowhead is 719-269-5002. We need to take control of the finances for the State of Colorado because our state employees and elected officials can't seem to do it!

Anonymous said...

"The Parole Board appears to want to keep the inmates locked up."

Give me a break. These people have been proven guilty. Why release them early. It's not fair to the general public and in many cases their victims.

Anonymous said...

To get parole the inmate must confess there so called crimes to parole board and then if they ever get to there MRD date they still have to serve three more years of mandatory parole. This is the most crooked unfair system in the world. Coloreado has about 8500 people hanging in limbo, who are being institutionalized, (slavery) so the state can get there federal payments for all the numbers, (inmates) they control.Meantime there destroying the future of the inmate, plus there familys. Colorado legislature created mandatory parole and also the statute allowing DOC to suck 20% out of every dollar a family member sends to the inmate relative. DOC needs to be audited to show how much money they get in kickbacks from phone service, the canteens they provide and also all the money they take in from all the slave labor they use.
Keeping non violent locked up isnt about public safety, it's about how much money DOC can take in. Yes, on top of all this scandal the guards rape the female inmates and further abuse them by hiding them away in AD-Seg and take away there privleges.
Those of you who think making phone calls help, forget it. You cant get a straight answer from any of them including Ari Zavaras and also Governor Bill Ritter. I have tried for 5 years and cant get a straight answer. I also found that the Denver DA's office does favors for DOC by filing false charges against inmates to keep them in prison. Inmates access to the courts is literally a farce. They have no money for an attorney and the records show a court appointed one is worthless and the reason 50 percent were convicted in the first place.
All the people that have the lock em up and leave them attitude need to comunicate and visit an inmate for a year and really find out what goes on behind those fences?? Its not pleasant.
Ritters closing of those two womens prisons is a farce. It saves very little. Had he cut the salarys of all those so called corrections people in adminstrative and let all the non violent offenders go who are eligible for parole, he would have saved a lot more. With no loss of public safety. djw

Anonymous said...

There are alot of things that can be done to help the budget crunch in Colorado... first stop "warehouseing" non-violent offenders and even violent offenders who have done their time with no infractions; offer rehabiliation during incarceration and assistance to offenders being released so they can reintegrate into society and become successful rather than setting them up for constant scrutiny and failure to keep the revolving doors, revolving.

Make parole discretionary rather than mandatory... reward these men and women who have made a mistake in their past, done learnt from that mistake... give them the second chance that they have earned and that we would all desire.

Why won't the parole board grant parole prior to the MRD?? IT IS ALL ABOUT $$$$$$$$$$... the more beds that are full the better!! And yes the beds are kept full by placing restrictions on parolees that most members of society could not abide by... Come on it's not about corrections, rehabiliation or public safety it all about greed and the DOLLAR!!!


Anonymous said...

You know, the sad thing is, not all of the people in prison were proven guilty. Many of the inmates had so many charges piled on by DAs that they took plea bargains because they were facing life in prison if they were convicted of the charges that, in many cases, were fabricated by the DA.

Did you follow the story about the El Paso County District Attorney John Newsome drinking while on duty? How many decisions to prosecute people were made by him while he was under the influence of alcohol? What about the DA in the Duke University rape case? Did you follow that? That DA was forced to resign after that case. The defendants spent hundreds of thousands of dollars defending themselves from the false charges.

Did you read "The Innocent Man" by John Grisham? It is a true story of yet another DA run amok. Look at the number of inmates freed lately due to DNA tests.

The United States of America has more people in prison than any other country in the world -- more than China which has a much larger population than the United States.

Our states are going broke building and supporting more prisons. We need to revise our sentencing laws and take a good hard look at our parole board. There are many in prison who have been rehabilitated and would be perfectly safe to release.

After an inmate serves his or her full sentence, he/she is subject to mandatory parole. That means someone who serves a five-year sentence, still serves two or three years of parole after that -- effectively turning a five-year sentence into a seven- or eight-year sentence. Many of the parole officers have too many parolees assigned to them. They cannot effectively watch them. The paroles who have already served their full sentences are then subject to the whims and demands of an overworked Parole Officer.

It is time for a change. The President just signed the stimulus bill. We, as a country, are deeper in debt than we've ever been. Many states are in just as bad shape as the federal government. Let's cut our state budget for the prisons, save ourselves some money, and let these people get on with their lives.

Anonymous said...

Well said! Another case that should be mentioned took place in Fort Collins -- the Tim Masters case. Tim was just freed by DNA evidence after 10 or 15 years in prison! The DAs who prosecuted that case should serve the same amount of time as Tim Masters, an innocent man, did!

That would make DAs think twice before prosecuting for the sake of a conviction -- justice be damned!

Anonymous said...