At a time when state legislators are burdened by the difficult task of budget cutting, it is important for taxpayers to know that one budget item continues to grow: Colorado corrections.
Like most states, Colorado is faced with an exploding prison population. The cover of the March 29 Parade magazine screamed "What's Wrong with Our Prisons?" revealing the startling statistic that America's prison population of 2.3 million is nearly five times more than the world's average.
The U.S. incarcerates 750 inmates per 100,000 persons to the world's average rate of 166 per 100,000. The bottom line on that cover stated, "Either we are the most evil people on earth or we are doing something very wrong." I believe it is the latter.
Our criminal justice system is broken, and the reasons are complex. One of the many contributing factors is that our penal system's focus on punishment is not working. You would think that after their first time behind bars prisoners would never do anything to wind up back there; yet the opposite is true.
In December 2007, the Department of Justice estimated that two-thirds of all released prisoners will commit new offenses within three years of their release. In addition to the great human toll of incarceration, $68 billion of our taxpayer dollars are paying for this travesty.
Due to the leadership of State Representative Michael Merrifield and State Senator John Morse, Colorado provides at least one segment of our citizenry, children, with a legal alternative to the revolving door of the penal system.
In March 2008, Governor Ritter signed into law the bill sponsored by these two legislators, which authorizes judges to offer youth offenders a restorative justice option.
One example of this type of restorative justice program is the Longmont Community Justice Partnership (LCJP). Longmont Police Officers refer offenders of all ages who take responsibility for their crime to LCJP.
These offenders are given a chance to meet with their victims and community members in a respectful process where they can learn the full impact of their crime and agree to repair their harm. On average 90% complete their agreements and are welcomed back to the community. What a different model from "lock 'em up!"