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.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Run On Sentencing

Colorado Springs Independent
It took a single legislative amendment in 1985 to double the prison sentences for Colorado felons. Other laws created "mandatory minimums" for certain crimes or stiffened penalties for the ones thought to show "extraordinary risk."
Going the opposite direction hasn't been as easy, even with prison costs helping to crush the state budget. Last spring, legislators balked at a wide-ranging proposal to cut sentences for many nonviolent crimes, instead passing a law requiring the Colorado Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice to examine the matter.
But the 27-member group's report, released in late November, only recommends minor changes to sentencing for drunk driving or escaping from detention. On Friday, Dec. 11, the panel will vote on recommending other possible changes to drug sentencing laws, including separating the crime of simply possessing a few grams of a drug from the one of getting ready to sell it.
Regardless, don't expect big headlines from the group's work. Doug Wilson, the state's public defender and a commission member, sounds a wry note of frustration when asked to talk about its progress so far.
"Hold on a minute," he says when reached by phone Monday, coming back moments later with an explanation: "I had to roll my eyes."
In the commission's 96-page report, which was greeted with deafening silence, the most notable recommendation could be this: People convicted of simple charges who walk away from halfway houses and the like should not be treated as harshly as the handful who actually escape from jails and prisons.
As for what to do with extraordinary-risk crimes and other mandatory sentencing requirements? Two words: "Further study."
"As far as I can tell," Wilson says, "we've addressed some low-hanging fruit."
Sen. John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, co-sponsored last session's proposal to shorten sentences, and is one of four legislators on the commission. He says reform is essential — "there's no evidence that longer sentences protect public safety at all," he says — and sees the commission's work, slow as it may be, as the best way to achieve it.
Rep. Mark Waller, a Colorado Springs Republican who recently joined Morse and Co., says he thinks the commission is making "a real attempt to reduce sentences." That could be useful for nonviolent drug offenders, he adds, but he's still waiting to hear what alternatives to prison could help them recover.
And that's what Wilson calls the "ultimate Catch-22": Prisons cost a fortune to run, but they're judges' main option for sentencing. Developing treatment and job programs might ultimately save money, but there's no cash to get them started.
The bill Morse sponsored this year, which Wilson backed, was supposed to solve that problem. It proposed using some money saved by shortened sentences to pay for programs aimed at reducing the number of people getting out of prison only to go right back.
Current proposals are less ambitious. One, supported by Waller, would eliminate a mandatory five-day jail sentence for anyone caught driving with a suspended license. (It wouldn't touch the stiffer penalties for those whose licenses were suspended for drunken driving.)
Wilson says he's heard grumbles that even this idea could be argued over at Friday's meeting, as could proposals for changing drug sentencing laws. He offers a grim prediction: "It's going to be a big pissing match."


Anonymous said...

Another huge waste of time and money, just like our mandatory parole system. When is Colorado going to get a "real" brain and figure this out? Get rid of aggravated sentencing for parolees (it's no favor to be on mandatory parole), get rid of felony sentencing for walking away from a halfway house, re-think what a "violent" crime REALLY is and most of all get rid of the HABITUAL CRIMINAL STATUTES!!!

Anonymous said...

I agree with anonomous, however to make progress its essential to get rid of all those who oppose Senator Morse proposals. We at FVFI are going to reseaech the legislator and make recomendations on there voting records when each come up for election.
The leading change has to be the Mandatory senterncing law and would save Colorado millions of dollars and get rid of a lot of dead wood corrections officers.djw

Anonymous said...

I agree with both posts! The mandatory parole requirement is essentially double punishment. An inmate who serves his full sentence is then released from prison to complete another two to five years of mandatory parole. Each inmate starts out with an ankle bracelet and a ridiculous curfew -- about 5:00 PM each evening!

Additionally, he is required to report to his parole officer, ComCor for UAs, TASC for supervision, and even required to go to "therapy" for several months or even years. All of these items have to be paid for by the parolee while he attempts to find a minimum wage job and support himself. He is not allowed to drive for the first month or more. How do we expect a parolee to survive without a job, without a car, all the while paying for the MANDATORY parole costs AFTER COMPLETING HIS COMPLETE SENTENCE IN PRISON!!!

A parolee can expect to pay approximately $300 to $400 per month just for the parole and therapy costs. Add rent, bus pass, or car payment, groceries, insurance, utilities, etc. and then imagine trying to find a decent paying job while on parole. The parolee has to take off work for parole officer appointments, UAs, ComCor appointments, and "therapy" appointments. That is a minimum of three days per week with appointments. Tell your boss you have to take off three afternoons per week and see how long you can keep your job!

Not having a job is a parole violation! You could be sent back to prison to complete your MANDATORY parole even though you have completed your entire sentence if you don't keep your job.

Anonymous said...

Add child support to the costs of parole...that has to be paid and now DOC has changed the earned time A/R to include losing earned time for not abiding by a court order! When in the hell did CDOC become the collection agency for the family court! Another revocation and I thought we outlawed debtor's prison 200 years ago...of course that doesn't apply when it's child support and CDOC.

It's time to demand an end to mandatory parole...that is all there is to it! If North Carolina can do a 9 month mandatory parole then so can Colorado! Not to mention they studied longer parole sentences and came to the conclusion it was a huge waste of money and would not decrease the recidivism rate!