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.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

America's Jail Crisis: Budget-strapped counties are being crushed by the costs of incarceration. But there are solutions.


Out the 20th floor window of the Harris County Criminal Justice Center, the sprawl and elevation of buildings look like the campus of a law enforcement university, filling up the northeast corner of downtown. A juvenile justice center as big as a hospital. Two high-rise courthouses. An overrun booking tank. Beneath it all, tunnels run like veins through the complex, filled with inmates shuffling to hearings from the third biggest jail in America.

An average of 10,000 inmates were held per day in the Harris County Jail in 2008, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, not including an additional 1,100 bused six hours to and from northern Louisiana. With an average stay of 45 days in three drab detention facilities, the jail is consistently overcrowded.

"This really wasn't built for this," says John Dyess, chief administrative officer of the sheriff's office, which oversees the jail. "I don't know if we can build our way out of where we are today."

In Pictures: America's Biggest Jails

Money may decide the issue. A stunning 25% of Harris County's annual $1.5 billion budget goes to law enforcement, with more than $750,000 a day spent on detainees. A shortage of guards means the jail shells out $35 million a year on overtime; some guards are topping out at $100,000 a year in total pay.

Houston is far from alone. Amid budget crises, falling tax revenue and national unemployment approaching 10%, jails--usually city- or county-run holding facilities for those serving short sentences or awaiting trial--saw their populations grow nearly twice as fast as state and federal prison populations during the first half of the decade, according to a 2008 report by the Justice Policy Institute. The report says that local governments spent $97 billion on criminal justice in 2004, up 347% since 1982, while detention expenses climbed 519% to $19 billion.

Between 2006 and 2008, Harris County's jail population grew 21%, adding 1,900 more mouths to feed three times a day. In 2000, there were 621,149 people in America's local hoosegows; by midyear 2008 there were 26% more, or 785,556 inmates housed at an average 95% of rated capacity.

Los Angles County has the largest daily jail population, 19,836, twice as much as in Harris County, followed by New York City. Rounding out the rest of the 10 biggest jail jurisdictions are Cook County, Ill.; Maricopa County, Ariz.; Philadelphia; Miami-Dade County, Fla.; Dallas County, Texas; Orange County, Calif., and Shelby County, Tenn.

From behind the brick walls in Houston, doctors write $1 million in prescriptions a month; dentists pull 330 teeth. Women are lined up shoulder-to-shoulder to fold bright orange clothes that come out of a battery of dryers that can handle 170 pounds of laundry a load. Men prepare 35,000 meals a day and 13 million meals a year at an average of 88 cents a plastic tray. A recent day's potatoes were wheeled into the kitchen on a crate stacked seven rows high, past a guard and an inmate shouting at each other--apparently the golden rule of not getting within "sight and sound" of female inmates was broken. Tensions are high since a brawl a few days before.

The $200 million spent on detention a year "puts a strain on resources" for other programs, says Dyess. But counties are legally obligated to provide a safe place for inmates and guards. Harris County has failed several jail standard tests and was recently cited for excessive use of force, inmate deaths, and poor medical and mental care (the jail says it serves as the biggest mental health facility in Texas).

The National Association of Counties is calling on communities to invest more into pretrial services so that people charged with non-violent offenses who don't need to be confined can be quickly vetted for community programs and the mentally ill can be put under health care services or, if needed, placed in a secure health facility. In Harris County, for instance, some people are detained for speeding tickets, yet potentially could be among those who cost about $485 a day for a bed in a local hospital.

"Many people are in jail because they are too poor to post bail," says Donald Murray, senior legislative director for justice and public safety for the association. "If you have a first-class pretrial program, a county is often in a better position because they can carefully analyze the individual, can figure out better what needs to be done."

The Justice Policy Institute says eight out of 10 people in jail earned less than $2,000 a month before they were locked up. Nearly two-thirds of the people behind bars are waiting for trial, while the length of pretrial detention has increased. Meanwhile, between 1986 and 2005, violent crime arrests climbed 25%, while drug arrests jumped 150%, 82% of them in 2005 for possession (about half for marijuana). And an estimated six out of every 10 jail inmates have a mental disorder, compared to 1-in-10 in the general population.

A guard in the 225-bed psych ward here sits near a sign that illustrates how to cut away a noose. Beneath it, a safety knife is held in a container for emergencies. Deputy Simon Ramirez Jr., 54, talks about how he's evolved from relying on the use of force in his youth to a more cerebral approach, as he and other guards in the ward "compete with the voices" in inmate heads. Many of his clientèle are homeless and arrive on repeated criminal trespassing arrests.

"A lot of these people just have to be by themselves," Ramirez says. "Nobody wants to build a mental health hospital. They use jails to warehouse people who have mental health issues."

State prisons aren't faring much better, with corrections nationwide costing more than $50 billion a year, according to a March report by the Pew Center on the States, called "One in 31: The Long Reach of American Corrections." The title comes from the ratio of people under some form of correctional control in the U.S.


Anonymous said...

The states should actually parole some inmates. In Colorado, very few inmates are paroled early. Most wait until their mandatory release dates and then they are released to complete their mandatory parole.

This way Colorado pays DOC to warehouse prisoners and then pays some more to keep the people under the control of the Parole Officers.

If the citizens of Colorado understood what the State of Colorado does, they would be appalled. Most aren't affected by the DOC system so they don't realize that Colorado adds mandatory parole to every sentence and paroles very few inmates early.

What that means is that every inmate who serves his/her complete sentence still serves an additional two, three, four, or five years on parole -- AFTER serving the complete sentence behind bars!

If the states are interested in saving some money they should release their prisoners 90 to 180 days early at the end of their sentences, eliminate mandatory parole, and offer some educational programs to help the inmates so they are prepared for release.

Did you see the National Geographic special on Fremont Correctional Facility this week? Did you hear the narrator refer to the inmates as Cho Mos? That is how the guards refer to the inmates! As in, "OK you Cho Mos! Get over here!" Cho Mos refers to 'child molesters.' Not every inmate in that prison is a child molester. The guards are supposed to treat the inmates with respect. Not so!

Ari Zavaras, you are remiss in your duties as the Director of DOC when you allow this to happen in one of your facilities.

Governor Ritter, you are also remiss in your duties as Governor to allow this to happen on your watch. You said in your inauguration speech that you were going to see that more inmates were paroled. That hasn't happened yet. You've had plenty of time!

Ari Zavaras and Governor Ritter, you should both be ashamed of yourselves that this continues in Colorado under your watch!

Marcia McGuire said...

The above comment mirrors my opinions.

Unfortunately, it is not the agenda of Governor Ritter (among others) to provide relief and reform among the prisons. That is obvious. If anything, incarcerations will be used as a tool to provide so-called economic 'relief' to the state of Colorado. This ultimately benefits the egomaniacal politicians and judges financially...only. There are many who don't follow the teaching of wise Masters such as Christ Jesus and Buddha.

Truth and Justice For All are mere words. It would take Divine Intervention to actually see action taken to reduce the embarrassing U.S. incarceration mania. The world reads and watches.

Potentially decent men and women are being used as commodities for personal gain; frivolous excuses to gain more money while the convicted are forever destroyed for nefarious purposes.

The U.S. can no longer hold its head high all the while exercising Gestapo tactics, applying fear and legally extorting money from people with its obscene judicial evil.

Anonymous said...

Both of the above writers are correct in there statements. Its about money in Colorado which the state is guilty of double jeopardy with the mandatory parole and also guilty of extortion. The humiliation of inmates by guards shouldnt be happening. Take a look at the record, how many women in colorado prisons have been raped by guards, who use the inmate as a sex toy?? Thats just one issue. All of us, Familys Voice for Inmates are watching court proceedings and actions of people from the governors office all the way to the lowest ranking members of the DOC. The list of names of all who have violate Colorado statutes in the performance of there dutys and now clamor for state immunity are a disgusting bunch of buerocrats. There criminal activitys are Rape, conspiracy to cover up rape,destroying evidence, alterring reports, violating there own AR's, police making false reports, DOC making false reports, DA, making false charges, also withholding evidence, judge making threats of long incarcerations to an inmate involved in a plea bargain. All the people i refer to know what they did and we the people will have to, deal with them thru the system. Thru the political arena as well as the courts aided by truthful press coverage. djw

abs said...

In the name of God (as you understand him of course)Please Please Please examine the rediculousness of keeping a person longer the third time they do a non-violent crime! ONE thing at a time is enough. Usually they are not convicted but they take deals that are coerced because they DONT have the cash for a decent attorney, then the defenders they get are too swamped to get in there and fight for them so they know they won't win the case. So they take the stupid deal when they may not even be guilty but to get the habitual (usually comprised of other deals that are similarly coerced)would keep them in for half their lives. To the poor defendant it is all a joke and about money. THey do not feel they have any power and they definately feel thrown away because of the way we throw them away. If it was your child, Governor Ritter, you would see things more clearly and you would act more urgently. This is not justice. IT creates a boat load of angry men. We as loved ones will do our best to help them take it on the chin but when you miss your children growing up, and can't afford to call them at $5-$8 every twenty minutes, and the state still holds you responsible to parent them (CHild support is collected in prison of course) as most men and women strongly desire to continue doing, the least we could do as a system of justice is not put people away who don't hurt other people physically. We can work with people who have bad habits. Parents can still be parents with bad habits. How much does it cost the state to take care of the children who go haywire when their parents are taken away by the state, for a bad habit? Does this make sense? Of course not. SO what the heck are we gonna do about it? The study you are proposing? Has it started? IS it on track to come up with some statistics that talk about how well children do when their parents are yanked for having pot for the third time? Or for stealing something so they can sell it to feed their kids since they cant get a job due to the felony already on their record? (noone should steal but when you are in dire straights you might just do it to feed your little ones) Can we propose more tax incentives for the company that will hire felons? Can we have some ideas surface for how to train employers to wisely give these ex-felons a chance? I know there is one out there but how many people even know about it? Tax incentives are very powerful for small businesses. How about making a program, in place of the mandatory parole $ we spend, turn that in to a mandatory ad campaign to hire felons. How about putting programs back in jails and prisons to give guys a real trade when they come out? How about the prisons who teach relaxation techniques, yoga and meditation? THat is a truly helpful program that fits all religions and all mental health models of good self care and maturity tools. Why can't we try and capture the teacheable moments of when a man or woman is thrown behind bars to offer and provide real answers to real problems with real criminal justice. Our society is complex but helping someone when they are down, is still the way of decent people. Not making them pay for their whole lives for mistakes made. IS it impossible to imagine removing felonies of non-violent types from the records of people who have progressed through the years? Can we not do more than just the diversion program? How about the Diversion programS. More for longer types of corrections like you shave a day off your felony staying on your record for every day you don't offend again?? IN any given period--like maybe what used to be the Habitual sentences or something? We are smarter than this. Let some people get together and brainstorm. Have a town meeting? BReak up into special areas of interest, come up with good ideas. No one wants dangerous people out on the street for anyone's sake. But my goodness, we can come up with better ideas than incarceration. OKAY enough already!! I agree totally with the previous comments!!abs

Tubal Reversal said...

hhhhh hello how r u all?
Hope fine...
Oh i m very happy after reading this Blogs...it is best site i ever go through...

Definition of ectopic: Pregnancy in which the fertilized egg or embryo implants on any tissue other than the endometrial lining of the uterus.

95% occur in the tube. 1.5% are abdominal, 0.5% are ovarian and 0.03% are cervical.

The death rate is about 1 per 2000 ectopics in this country. About 40-50 women die each year from ectopic pregnancy in the U.S.

There has been a large drop in the death/ectopic rate since 1970. In other words, it is much safer to have an ectopic than it was in 1970.