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.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Truth In Numbers

Daily Camera

The governor was a longtime prosecutor, so we don`t believe his critics that he`s a soft-on-crime leader willing to trade public safety for a few million bucks.

And Gov. Bill Ritter`s plan to cut about $19 million in costs -- to help chip away at a $320 budget shortfall -- by releasing certain prisoners early didn`t sound like a bad idea at first.

Only prisoners who were six months away from release would be eligible, and ex-prisoners to be released from parole would have had to have served, without conflict, six months on parole or half of their parole sentence to be expedited.

Colorado has more than 23,000 inmates in state prisons, nearly double the number from 10 years ago. It costs about $25,000 to house one inmate for one year in a state prison, according to the state.

The Colorado Department of Corrections had reported about 3,400 prisoners would be eligible. But in what has been understated as an "underreporting," it turns out that 6,400 could be released up to six months early. According to a review of records by the Denver Post, 478 of those to be considered for release in the first year of the program are violent offenders, including people convicted of murder, manslaughter, kidnapping and child abuse.

Suddenly, the cost savings doesn`t sound that great after all.

The long and short of the plan is that a parole board will have the final say on whether convicts can leave prison, and the governor`s office has said it won`t be applied to kidnappers, sex offenders or people who will jeopardize public safety.

So what are we facing?

The state says Colorado`s recidivism rate, defined as released convicts returning to prison within three years, is 53.4 percent. At $25,000 a year per head, that`s not a very good investment. Some of these return to jail for less-serious "technical" violations like not meeting the terms of their parole.

But a lot of them in Colorado -- particularly the mentally ill and people whose convictions included drug violations -- simply aren`t getting rehabilitated in prison. The culture clash in state and federal prisons between punishment and rehabilitation isn`t serving the citizenry or municipal budgets well.

At the federal level, allegations of sexual abuse of inmates by staff members -- those who should be charged with keeping the institutions safe, orderly places of punishment, and yes, rehabilitation -- more than doubled from 2001 to 2008. And allegations were present in all but one of 93 federal prisons, with Colorado`s Supermax in Florence having the most. And 92 percent of those prosecuted wind up with a guilty plea or conviction.

This small chunk of a big budget gap may seem necessary for the state right now, but for major savings down the road, more work needs to be done to address recidivism in the state and nationwide. And meaningful prison reform -- protecting prisoners from abuse and focusing on rehabilitation instead -- is a good place to start.


Anonymous said...

I don't understand this contradictory article!
This is the way I understand the sentencing laws: If a person commits a crime and is sentenced to highest legal sentence in Colorado, a judge has a right to attach yet another # years to that sentence and call it parole. Wouldn't that be illegal? So aren't alot of these people serving illegal sentences anyway. A lot of states don't have parole.
My suggestion would be to ignore this article and start now getting rid of all parole times. How about a class action law suit against added illegal parole years. Start now also focusing on rehab for those not being released. The state of CO can't afford to not to take action now.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the above article and support a class action lawsuit against Colorado for the double jeopardy of parole but i would take it a step further to really get at the problem of growing numbers of inmates. We should demand that Colorado return to 1982 sentencing guidlines which would reduce the prison population. I also advocate a class action suit against DOC for Extortion of credit thru the way they handle inmate accounts. Yes its getting time to take action when seeing all the foot dragging and the continuing abuses by DOC, DA's, judges and all those in the system who continually oppose reform which would save millions of dollars, also force the DOC to get with rehab programs as soon as they get an inmate. Recidivism would cure itself. The public safety run by the state needs to focus on all the people within government who are guilty of, Abuse of Power. djw

Anonymous said...

While we are at it how about a class action law suit for all the poeple who have had thier lives destroied because the goverment lied to us about marijuana? At the very least they should have to spend as much money for public sevice announcement to tell us the truth as they did on lieing to us.

Barney said...

To the first poster, "No", the Judge does not have the option of adding another x number of years for parole. Colorado is a MANDATORY parole state ( one of very few remaining) in which there is an automatic parole sentence added to the back end of EVERY sentence. It is based of the degreee of the felony conviction for which they were sentenced. If you have been convicted on a felony 6, your parole time is mandatory 1 year; felony 5 is 2 years; felony 4 is 3 years; and felonies 2 & 3 carry mandatory sentences of 5 years parole inaddition to the prison sentence, jail time, and community corrections time.

Anonymous said...

Oops, Sorry about that Barney, I didn't take the time to get my facts straight. Thank you for that. You didn't say how you feel about this though. How do you feel about the mandatory parole?

Barney said...

I think it is wrong. First of all, in 1982 we doubled all prison sentences, then we add mandatory parole periods which can again double the sentence. In reality, an inmate could possibly do double to triple their original sentence. We have a recidivism rate of somewhere near 60%, the largest part of which are due to techinical parole violations (like not being able to pay for classes or supervision or some other petty reason). If you want to reduce the budget and the number of inmates in our prisons, do away with mandatory parole. We are one of only a small handful of states who still utilizes mandatory parole. If we did away with mandatory parole, we would not need early releases to balance the budget and we would not need more and more prison space.
Rather than funding mandatory parole and returns to prisons, spend money of rehabilitation and re-entry programs to help the inmates succeed once they are out (and reduce the recidivism rates drastically).
Sorry----but you asked!!!!

Jason said...

Well said!