While I appreciate the thoughtfulness...we don't have time to get stuck in the quagmire of study and meetings. There needs to be bold and decisive action and luckily the commission is uniquely poised to do just that. Evidence-based research on sentencing practices has already been done and can be applied to the situation we find ourselves in here. But the DA is correct, there has to be buy in and dollars reprioritized for this to work.
Many who have studied Colorado sentencing laws agree: change is needed. Gov. Bill Ritter recognized the importance of sentencing reform when he asked his newly formed multi-disciplinary Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice to take a comprehensive look at Colorado sentencing laws.
While there seems to by widespread agreement about the need for modification, we must proceed with a cautious and careful examination of the laws we are proposing to change. As with many laws, we try to remedy problems with quick fixes. As a result, over time we develop convoluted legislation creating unanticipated consequences that produce less than just results. This not only is counterproductive for the victim and the community, but it neither provides the level of punishment expected nor incorporates the necessary rehabilitative aspects needed for the offender.
The large number of inmates in the Colorado Department of Corrections may be worthy of discussion, but that fact alone does not translate into a damaged or broken sentencing scheme. It is a fact that we have seen crime rates drop as the inmate population has increased. Is there a correlation? Those who believe too many are incarcerated will find other reasons for the reduced crime rate. Those who believe there is a correlation advocate that the cost is worth it when compared to the cost of crime on society.
In studying our sentencing structure, it must be comprehensive without a pre-established agenda to merely reduce the prison population. The cost of incarceration is high and the figures presented will vary greatly depending on who is gathering the data, but effective rehabilitation programs are also expensive and many often do not produce results that are any more impressive than straight incarceration.
Therefore, before we consider reducing the prison population as our litmus test for sentencing reform success, we need to be smart, practical, informed and willing to examine best practice methods from around the country and perhaps worldwide. We must also examine the following with good unbiased research:
> The cost of incarceration versus the cost of crime in the community.
> The nature of the offender in the department of corrections and the offense committed.
> The availability of adequate mental health and substance abuse programs.
> The availability of effective offender rehabilitation programs.
> The willingness of the state and communities to fund effective programs with adequate public safety observed.
> The willingness of the citizens to accept the suggested sentence modification.
> Whether prevention programs are established and adequately funded.
> The willingness of courts and prosecutors to follow the legislative sentencing philosophy.
> Ability to identify the sentencing goal: reducing recidivism, punishment, isolation from society or a combination?