DENVER (AP) - Democratic lawmakers introduced a bill Wednesday that would roll back sentences for some lower-level felonies in an effort to stop the growth of Colorado's corrections budget.
The measure (Senate Bill 286) would also mandate that first-time offenders caught committing property crimes like writing bad checks or trespassing not be sent to jail unless they have a prior record. It would also make drug possession a separate crime from drug dealing, allowing drug addicts to be treated under supervision rather than locked up.
It would even change the punishment for people already behind bars. Inmates who escape would be punished more severely than those who simply attempt to get out but don't make it.
Sen. Morgan Carroll (D-Aurora) said it costs over $30,000 a year to keep someone in prison, the equivalent of supporting the education of five children or paying health insurance premiums for three families for a year.
"These are not abstractions. This is not academic. We have to decide where our values and priorities are," said Carroll, who is co-sponsoring the bill in the Senate with Democratic Sen. John Morse, the former police chief of Fountain.
In the House, the measure is sponsored by Rep. Claire Levy (D-Boulder) and Rep. Mike Merrifield (D-Colorado Springs).
The bill is backed by public defenders and mental health advocates, who say many people end up in trouble with the law because of untreated mental illness. The Independence Institute, a free-market think tank, also says it supports sentencing reform but isn't taking a position on the bill.
The Colorado District Attorneys Council opposes the measure, and Gov. Bill Ritter, Denver's former district attorney, also has problems with it.