The Huffington Post
Republicans often claim to be the party of fiscal conservatism and limited government. But Republican lawmakers in Colorado show little enthusiasm for applying those principles to Colorado's hugely expensive prison bureaucracy. So when sentencing reform bills pop up in the next legislative session, it will be an excellent opportunity for Republicans to show if they really are the party of fiscal discipline, or if they are going to leave the heavy lifting to the Democrat majority.
In 1985, the Colorado Legislature arbitrarily doubled the maximum penalties in Colorado's presumptive sentencing range for all levels (and all types) of felony crimes. Colorado's inmate population more than doubled in the next five years. It has more than doubled again since, growing at a rate significantly faster than the state's overall population.
Along the way, lawmakers have continued to enact numerous new laws which have created new sentencing enhancements, and even new crimes, often with less than clear public safety benefit.
In a desperate effort to keep pace with the capacity demands of such unprecedented prison growth, successive legislatures and governors have pushed corrections spending over the last twenty years from less than 3 percent to nearly 9 percent of the state's general fund, or from around $97 million to over $675 million of general fund appropriation.
That's a more than 10 percent annual compound growth rate in prison spending. In other words, for decades now, "fiscal conservatives" have been eager and active participants in one of the most extreme spending sprees in state history.
Late in the 2009 legislative session, Democratic Senator John Morse of Colorado Springs introduced Senate Bill 286, which would have kept our current very tough sentences for violent and sex crimes, while re-writing a significant portion of Colorado's criminal code. Morse was joined by a group of liberal and progressive Democrat sponsors and prime co-sponsors including Senator Morgan Carroll of Aurora and Representatives Claire Levy of Boulder and Mike Merrifield of Colorado Springs. Dozens of other Democrats signed on to the bill.
The Republican opposition was both unified and visceral. Senate minority leader Josh Penry of Grand Junction called SB 286 "radical" and "wrong." Senator Scott Renfroe of Greeley said the bill "caves into crime."
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Who is the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition?
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.
Wednesday, December 09, 2009
The Huffington Post