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.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Clear The Haze On Medical Pot

The Denver Post

Though Coloradans voted to legalize marijuana for medicinal use nine years ago, certified medical-marijuana users, many of whom are battling chronic pain, are being evicted from federal housing.

That's because federal law categorizes marijuana as an illegal drug.

Two Colorado men are fighting such evictions in court and similar battles are taking place in 13 other states that allow medical-marijuana use, according to The Post's Nancy Lofholm.

Given earlier court rulings, it's doubtful those battles will prevail for the evicted. That's why we think elected officials in Washington should correct the conflict between state and national law.

"It's safe to say this is a growing problem. We're going to encounter it more," said Brian Vicente, an advocate for medical-marijuana users.

To get a more poignant take on the situation, consider Bill Hewitt, one of the Colorado men fighting his eviction.

"It's disgusting," Hewitt told Lofholm. "Most disabled can't afford a house, so they get assistance. These people should not be thrown in the street because they use a medication that alleviates pain."

Hewitt suffers from muscular dystrophy. He claims smoking marijuana has replaced prescription painkillers that produced negative side effects.

Pot, he says, allowed him to toss tranquilizers, muscle relaxers, sleeping pills and other drugs in the trash. Hard — but legal — drugs such as morphine and Oxycontin also are painkillers that medical-marijuana advocates claim can be shelved in favor of pot.

Yes, we have concerns that a mushrooming use of medical marijuana by young men in Colorado, as earlier stories have shown, signals a system that is likely being abused.

Authorities ought to make sure certified users truly are deserving of the treatment. But that is a separate issue.

We understand that there could be a perception problem regarding the evictions. No one wants to think that their tax dollars are allowing someone to live on the government dole while getting high.

Deadly Sentences For Juveniles

The Denver Post

Two teenage boys have committed suicide in Colorado jails within the past 10 months.

Jimmy Stewart was 17 years old last November when he foolishly took his father's car and drove while he was intoxicated, killing another person. He was in a juvenile detention facility for three weeks before he was transferred to jail. He was remorseful. The detention center put him on suicide watch.

No one was watching him in the Denver County Jail. After several days in jail, he killed himself.

Robert Borrego was also 17 when he was arrested on May 26 in Pueblo for assault and possession of an illegal weapon (a butterfly knife). According to news reports, Borrego got into a fight outside the state fairgrounds following a tough-man competition and stabbed another kid. He had been in isolation in the county jail when he killed himself on June 15.

Neither of these young men was in jail because they had been a behavior problem in detention. They weren't in jail to protect the public; juvenile detention facilities are locked and secure. They weren't in jail because of a considered decision that jail was where they belonged. No one had assessed their psychological condition, criminal history, risk of flight, seriousness of the offense, and other factors particular to them before putting them in jail.

They were in jail because they were being charged as adults.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Lost Juvies

The Denver Post

"In America, we recycle our trash and throw away our children."

Those words were spoken by a mother whose 16-year-old son is serving life in prison without possibility of parole. His sentence isn't unusual. America is the only nation on earth that sentences its children to die behind bars.

We have thousands of throw-away children wasting hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars in prisons stretching from coast to coast. In 2006, Colorado became the first state to reverse that trend, by allowing parole after 40 years. It is a modest beginning.

In 2007, Gov. Bill Ritter created the nation's first juvenile clemency board, which has been universally lauded. However, it is distressing that not a single juvenile has yet received a pardon or commutation. Still, by creating such a board, Ritter acknowledges that, from their brain development to their capacity for rehabilitation, children are different from adults. Theoretically, those who were convicted of crimes that occurred when they were 14, 15, 16 or 17 deserve a second look.

But political reality intrudes.

We all have different versions of right and wrong. It seems wrong that a kid gets sentenced to life for a hit-and-run that generally garners probation or a few years in prison for an adult. Or that a 38-year-old man receives 16 years in jail for setting his father on fire over a minor argument (the dad later died), while a 15-year-old who kills his molesters is put away for life. Yet other people looked at the same set of circumstances and had no trouble trying, convicting and incarcerating those cases.

California Is Failing The Prison Test

NY Times Editorial

The California Legislature has failed several times to change backward sentencing and parole policies that keep the state’s prisons dangerously overcrowded with too many minor offenders sent to jail for too long. These failures, which have driven up corrections costs by about 50 percent in less than a decade, came home to roost earlier this month, when a federal court ordered the state to cut the prison population significantly. Days later, an ominous riot broke out in the men’s prison in Chino.

The time for ducking this issue has clearly passed, but a reform plan approved by the State Senate after being championed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is in danger of being gutted in the Assembly. Democratic lawmakers who should know better are running scared of the prison guards’ union and of being labeled “soft on crime.”

The heart of the problem is California’s poorly designed parole system. A vast majority of states use parole to supervise serious offenders who require close monitoring. California has historically put just about everyone on parole. According to a federally backed study released last year, more people are sent to prison in California by parole officers than by the courts, and nearly half of those people go back on technical violations like missed appointments and failed drug tests.

The reform package that passed in the Senate would allow the state to focus parole efforts on serious offenders and end the costly practice of cycling people back to jail for technical violations. Under another provision, low-risk offenders like the elderly and the infirm could be removed from costly medical care in prison and sent to alternative custody nursing homes, where they would be monitored with electronic ankle bracelets. Low-risk inmates who completed college degrees or vocational programs would earn credits shortening their sentences.

This bill should have easily passed in the Assembly, which has a Democratic majority supposedly in favor of reform. But the Democrats, many of whom are running for other offices, are clearly fearful of even taking a vote that would allow a sick, 80-year-old inmate to spend what remains of his life in a nursing home wearing an ankle bracelet.

This is a low moment for Democrats in California. Those who put their parochial career interests ahead of the public good deserve to be called to account for it.

Mexico Eases Ban On Drug Possession

Wall Street Journal

MEXICO CITY -- Mexico decriminalized small amounts of marijuana, cocaine and heroin on Friday, in a move that creates one of the world's most permissive narcotics markets and that opponents say could complicate President Felipe Calderón's war against illegal drug cartels.

The law goes beyond what is allowed in many other countries by making it legal to possess small amounts of a wide array of drugs. For instance, the new law allows the equivalent of about five joints of marijuana or four lines of cocaine.

[Mexico Eases Ban on Drug Possession]

The softened approach to small-scale drug possession comes as Mexico fights drug gangs that account for a large part of the marijuana and cocaine sold on U.S. streets. In Mexico, more than 12,000 people have died in the past three years in the cartels' battles for turf and clashes with law enforcement.

The gangs are also selling more and more drugs domestically, fueling drug addiction. A 2008 government survey found that the number of drug addicts in Mexico had almost doubled in the past six years to 307,000, while the number of those who had tried drugs rose to 4.5 million from 3.5 million.

Mexican prosecutors say the law will help the war on drug gangs by letting federal prosecutors focus their attention on traffickers rather than small-time users.

"This frees us from a flood of small crimes that have saturated our federal government and allows the authorities to go after big criminals," said Bernardo Espino del Castillo, an official with Mexico's Attorney General's office who helped design the new law.

Still, Mexico's move could anger some allies in Washington. Mexico tried to pass a similar law in 2005, but the Bush administration objected strongly, killing the initiative.

This time around, the Obama administration has kept largely silent on the issue. U.S. drug czar Gil Kerlikowske said in July he would adopt a "wait-and-see attitude" about the new Mexican law, which was passed in April.

Prisoner Leads Tunes For Peers Doing Time

The Denver Post

CAÑON CITY — Chuck Lim-brick Jr. hears it in his head. He hears the melody. He hears the notes. On this day, however, he just can't get his fellow prisoner to hear the same thing.

"Why we got to do this all the time?" he barks. "C'mon, man. Sing the note. Why we gotta go through this every time?"

Limbrick, a convicted murderer, quiets himself for a second, and then he raises his head. He's not about to give up.

"You can do it," Limbrick says as he lets out a hint of a grin. The man across from him, dressed in prison-issued green fatigues, starts to sing the chorus once again.

"There it is!" Limbrick screams.

It's just another day inside the prison chapel at the Colorado Territorial Correctional Facility in Cañon City.

"I can't fix lights. I'm not a plumber. I'm a musician, That's what I do," Limbrick explains.

And by all accounts, Limbrick is one amazingly gifted musician.

"In my 25 years as a chaplain, I have never met a guy like Chuck," prison chaplain Dan Matsche says. "He is the most talented musician I have ever seen."

Yet 21 years ago, Limbrick, then 15, was known only for shooting his mother in their Colorado Springs home. His second shot killed Betty Limbrick on Sept. 27, 1988.

The following year, then-El Paso County District Attorney John Suthers told jurors during his closing statements that shortly before Betty Limbrick died, she uttered these words: "Chuckie, I love you, but you shot me."

Convicted of first-degree murder as an adult, Limbrick, at the age of 16, became the youngest inmate at the time in the state's adult prison system.

Matsche believes Limbrick turned his life around when he decided music would be a central part of his character.

New Approach To Crime and Punishment

The Denver Post
By Ari Zavaras and Pete Weir

From the moment Gov. Bill Ritter took office in January 2007, he has made public safety one of his top priorities. That commitment included the launch of several innovative initiatives aimed at reducing Colorado's prison recidivism rate.

"More than half of Department of Corrections' inmates wind up back in prison within three years," Gov. Ritter said in his first State of the State address. "That's simply an unacceptable number. The costs are spiraling out of control and eating into our ability to fund education and health care. We can do better here in Colorado, and we're going to."

With a sharp increase in prison inmates and costs over the past decade, we now spend 9 percent of state government's General Fund housing 23,000 prison inmates, which is more than we invest in educating approximately 220,000 college students. With declining revenues and an ongoing budget crisis, that imbalance is becoming more and more pronounced.

Ritter, who spent 25 years as a criminal prosecutor, recently introduced a two-year pilot program that will advance his anti-recidivism initiatives and save taxpayers nearly $20 million this fiscal year. This is a responsible plan, one that has the support of the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police. In the face of overheated political rhetoric, it's important to separate fact from fiction.

This plan will:

• Accelerate the transition off of parole for 2,600 offenders who have met their parole goals and completed at least half of their parole term.

• Reinvest savings from this transition into front-loaded, enhanced services and supervision for new parolees.

• Accelerate the transition from prison to parole for 3,500 eligible offenders who would leave prison within six months anyway.

This is not a California plan, where the prison population is being reduced by 27,300 inmates, or an Illinois plan, where 1,000 prison jobs are being cut.

This is a carefully crafted, moderate Colorado plan. It is based in evidence and research. It is strategic and grounded in recommendations from the nonpartisan Colorado Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice, and it fully engages the Parole Board in the decision-making process. Offenders who are likely to re-offend are likely to go nowhere. They will continue serving their sentences.

According to the Pew Center on the States' Public Safety Performance Project, Arizona, Maryland, Nevada and Pennsylvania are following a similar strategy. Maryland's results are particularly impressive. Colorado should be on this list.

Pot Laws Perplex Cities

The Denver Post

Inside CannaMart, a Greenwood Village "wellness counseling" center that connects medical- marijuana patients with the medicine they seek, there are the usual posters of marijuana leaves and pro-pot messages. But there is also something else: boxes in various states of packing.

CannaMart is moving, driven out by the difficulty of getting a business license in Greenwood Village. Because the sale of marijuana violates federal law — even though Colorado voters approved a medical-marijuana amendment to the state constitution in 2000 — Greenwood Village considers the business to be in violation of its public nuisance ordinance.

"I'm going to lose a lot of patients," Stan Zislis, CannaMart's owner, said of the upcoming move. (He won't say where he's moving to). "They're denying people's rights, basically."

In the months since the Obama administration said it would respect state medical-marijuana laws when it comes to federal drug enforcement, dispensaries have openly proliferated in the Colorado — now numbering perhaps as many as 100.

But with state officials saying they have no authority to regulate dispensaries, local governments across Colorado have been rushing to fill the regulatory vacuum, creating a wildly varying patchwork of rules for dispensaries.

On one end, for instance, Aurora has joined Greenwood Village in arguing that dispensaries are not allowed in the city.

"For now, absent any direction from the court, we will be following our long-standing business-licensing rules that require all businesses to be lawful," said Aurora spokeswoman Kim Stuart.

At the other end are cities like Boulder, which has no regulations for dispensaries and no plans to impose any.

Colorado Doctors Advise On Pot Laws

the Denver Post

Two doctors account for more than a third of the patients on Colorado's medical-marijuana registry, and five doctors account for more than 50 percent of the patients, according to statistics from the state health department.

In all, of the 10,000 medical-marijuana patients on the state's registry, 75 percent of those received their recommendations from one of only 15 doctors.

The clustering of so many patients on the registry from so few doctors has raised the suspicions of state officials.

"It's a cause for concern," said Jim Martin, executive director of the state Department of Public Health and Environment. "At least in any other area like this, we would want to be sure that the physicians are meeting the standards of care."

State Attorney General John Suthers went a step further, suggesting the state Board of Medical Examiners investigate the top pot-recommending docs.

"The Health Department can question whether it's proper medicine to issue hundreds of certifications in one day and perhaps make some referrals to the medical board," Suthers said, referencing a statement by the state's chief medical officer during a recent hearing that one doctor signed for 200 patients in a single day.

But cannabis advocates said the clustering is perfectly understandable, the result of doctors who specialize in a particular area. Medical-marijuana attorney Rob Corry said the doctors are "compassionate professionals" whose specialty naturally attracts patients seeking alternative forms of medicine.

"I'm very concerned about the climate of fear that the Colorado attorney general has created in the minds of physicians who are just trying to help people," Corry said.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Prisons and Colleges Top States Budget Cuts

Pew Report on Reuters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Faced with a total budget gap of $215 billion for fiscal years 2009 and 2010, most U.S. states looked to their prison and university budgets for relief, according to a report released on Thursday.

At least 18 states raised income or sales taxes to cover budget holes that, when added together, were the equivalent of nearly $700 per man, woman and child in the country, according to the report by the Pew Center on the States.

But nearly double that number, some 35 states, cut higher education spending or increased tuition.

More than half of the states -- at least 26 -- slashed funding to prisons. Seven cut prison spending by more than 10 percent, and another seven closed prisons entirely.

Eighteen states this year asked over 830,000 employees to take furloughs or unpaid leave, Pew said, but tight budgets are also affecting residents, some of them the poorest.

In at least four states, patients enrolled in Medicaid, the healthcare program for the poor jointly administered by the states and federal government, must pay more for care and, in at least eight states, patients have seen benefits cut.

Only seven states looked to gambling revenues to help make up for shortfalls that were first caused by the housing downturn, which cut into property taxes, but have grown due to the longest recession since last century's Great Depression.

"This was a year of fiscal reckoning for states of every size, in every region of the country," said Sue Urahn, managing director of the center, in a statement. "The challenges are far from over -- states will face even tougher choices in the next couple of years."

Even with plummeting revenues, at least 18 states took inspiration from the $787 billion federal economic stimulus plan to try to spend their way back to better days.

According to Pew, Colorado enacted one of the most ambitious stimulus plans that included $50 million for small business loans and job training.

Ethan On Fox Business News

Fox Business News

Medical Marijuana Users Facing Eviction

The Denver Post

OLATHE — Bill Hewitt's thrice-daily medicine is laid out on a tiny table in his trailer: a couple of marijuana buds alongside a glass pipe and a Zippo lighter.

Hewitt, who suffers from muscular dystrophy, is a card-carrying medical- marijuana user. And he is living in this worn-down travel trailer because he was evicted from federally subsidized housing on account of his marijuana use.

The difference between Colorado's legal acceptance of marijuana for medical use and federal law, which categorizes marijuana as an illegal drug, is resulting in a housing quandary for the disabled.

Even with the state's OK to use medical marijuana, people such as Hewitt can't live in federal housing or receive federal subsidies for rent under the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Housing Choice Voucher Program.

Hewitt and another medical-marijuana user from Durango have challenged that policy with HUD's fair-housing division and in court. The policy has drawn lawsuits in at least two of the other 13 states that allow medical-marijuana use. But so far HUD has prevailed. HUD officials stress they have no choice in the matter.

"HUD lawyers are very clear about this. There is not to be any substance abuse in federal housing or voucher housing," said Teresa Duran, interim director of the Colorado Division of Housing. "Until the federal laws change, we have to abide by that."

There is no data to say how widespread the problem is. HUD officials say they don't track evictions or complaints tied to medical- marijuana use.

Medical-marijuana users and suppliers say it is common and becoming more so.

"It's safe to say this is a growing problem. We're going to encounter it more," said Brian Vicente, executive director of Sensible Colorado, a nonprofit resource for medical- marijuana users.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Wasted Money..Wasted Lives

Boulder Weekly
Colorado’s $318 million budget shortfall may succeed in accomplishing something that activists have been working to achieve for a decade — reform in the state’s criminal justice system. On Sept. 18, Gov. Bill Ritter announced a host of budget cuts, some of which pertain to state prison inmates and parolees. Most of the cuts will go into effect on Tuesday, Sept. 1.

The budget cuts include $263 million in targeted service cuts, the elimination of 270 full-time equivalent positions and a reduction of $48 million in cash-funded programs.

An estimated $18.9 million will be saved by letting parolees who’ve met the conditions of their parole off early and letting inmates who’ve demonstrated their readiness to be paroled out of prison early. Some of the savings will be utilized to give parolees enhanced and front-loaded services, such as help finding work and housing, in order to improve parolees’ success in transitioning to life outside prison.

These measures, far from being simply a way to cut corners on the Department of Corrections budget, were recommended by the Colorado Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice (CCJJ) and are part of Ritter’s anti-recidivism program.

“The cuts are going to actually enable us to implement some pretty rational policies about parole and how much time you spend in prison,” says Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder, a member of the CCJJ. “I think the governor is actually embracing some pretty important changes in corrections philosophy.”

Levy says that cutting the budget for the Department of Corrections will help to protect strained social services from additional cuts.

“I think this is an opportunity to look at whether what we’ve been doing in Colorado is actually cost-effective and whether it’s fair to the people in Colorado who rely on mental health care and all the other parts of our budget that are being short-changed because we haven’t actually tried to apply evidence-based policies to corrections,” Levy says.

Currently in Colorado, one in 29 people are in prison, on parole or on probation, a figure higher than the national rate of 1 in 31. In 1982, that figure in Colorado was 1 in 102.

In 1999, the Colorado Department of Corrections budget was just over $300 million. This year, it’s more than $760 million.

Levy attributes the dramatic increase not only to an effort by lawmakers to seem “tough on crime,” but also on “a basic lack of understanding of whether there’s any logical connection between the length of a sentence and public safety.”

“I think our philosophy has morphed from rehabilitation to just deterrence and incapacitation,” she says. “If someone has been bad, we remove them from society and make society safer for the duration of the sentence. But what we haven’t looked at is the end of the sentence. I think what people have done is basically ignored the fact that most people who go to prison are going to be released at some point. And given that they are, it’s in our best interests to make sure they know how to conform to the norms of society. What we’ve been doing instead is just locking them up and just forgetting about them till they’re about to come out. Public safety isn’t served.”

Levy says this isn’t about taking dangerous offenders and releasing them on society, but rather looking at individual parolees and inmates and moving those who qualify on to the next step in the rehabilitation process.

“They’ve either served their sentence, or they’ve met with their parole board and the parole board has determined that they’re a good risk for release on parole,” she says.

Rather than simply disgorging parolees and inmates, the new program would offer increased services during the first 18 months of a parolee’s life beyond bars.

“The services provided would be very intensive services — getting them housing, getting them jobs, making sure they’ve got the psychotropic medications that they may need, doing all of those things in a very intensive way so that they don’t have to be supervised on parole for five years,” Levy says. “You pretty much know whether somebody’s going to succeed or fail on parole in the first six to 12 months. So what you want to do is front-load the services and give them every chance of success.”

Christie Donner, director of the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition (CCJRC), has been working with legislators and policy-makers since 1999 to change the way Colorado handles incarceration and parole. Though Donner says Ritter’s changes represent “a tiny piece of the pie” of overall reform needed in Colorado, she is encouraged by Ritter’s decision.

Pot Possession $1?

9 News

DENVER - A city panel in charge of overseeing marijuana possession crimes in Denver recommended on Wednesday that the fine for possession be set at $1.

If Denver's presiding judge accepts the recommendation from the Denver Marijuana Policy Review Panel, the fine would be the lowest in the entire nation for marijuana possession.

The panel was created by Mayor John Hickenlooper in December 2007 after voters passed an ordinance that made it so adult marijuana possession is the city's "lowest lawn enforcement priority."

In May 2008, the city attorney's office made it so those cited for the crime can mail in their fines instead of having to appear in court. At that time, the city attorney's office assigned the value of the fine at $50.

"By setting the fine at just $1, we are sending a message to Denver officials that the era of citing adults for using a less harmful drug than alcohol is over. It's simply not worth the city's time or resources," said panel member and SAFER Executive Director Mason Tvert, who coordinated the successful Denver marijuana initiatives.

Lt. Ernest Martinez with the Denver Police Department is also part of the panel and voted against lowering the fine.

"There's no indication that there's a problem with the fine schedule," Martinez said. "The panel is going outside the bounds of the language of the ordinance."

Martinez thinks there should be more dialogue about the changes.

International Drug Cartels Infiltrating Forests

Another reason to decriminalize...
The Denver Post

Authorities have seized nearly 20,000 marijuana plants from national forest land in Colorado this summer, part of an apparent expansion of growing operations funded and run by international drug cartels.

The operations pose a significant safety hazard to hikers who may happen upon the armed farmers in the woods. They also threaten streams that can be polluted by chemicals used to grow marijuana.

"I don't want it to get to the point where it is not safe for the public to go out into national forests," said Michael Skinner, assistant agent in charge of the U.S. Forest Service's Rocky Mountain Region.

In the latest discovery, in Pike National Forest near Deckers on Friday, dozens of federal and local agents found a rifle, piles of discarded garbage, propane tanks and more than 14,500 marijuana plants in an area the size of a football field. It could be the largest marijuana-growing operation ever found in Colorado.

Last month, authorities seized 5,100 plants, worth an estimated $2.5 million, from a pot-growing operation in Pike National Forest near Cheesman Reservoir.

Forest Service spokesman Terry McCann said rangers had previously encountered only small mom-and-pop marijuana-growing operations.

The bigger farms found this year indicate that well-funded drug cartels have discovered the Rocky Mountains, Skinner said.

"We don't know why they have decided to come here," he said. "This is new for Colorado. We haven't had time to study the trend."

Federal authorities arrested two suspects in the most recent case, both illegal immigrants from Mexico, Skinner said. He did not release their names or details about charges.

Skinner said he has requested $100,000 this year to cover costs for searching for the farms. He admitted it is a drop in the bucket against a growing problem.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Redemption In a Criminal Background Check World

‘Redemption’ in an Era of Widespread
Criminal Background Checks
by Alfred Blumstein and Kiminori Nakamura

One of the stated goals in President Barack Obama’s crime and law enforcement agenda is to break down employment barriers for people who have a prior criminal record, but who have
stayed clean of further involvement with the criminal justice system. To understand how
many people are affected by some of these barriers, we only need look at the widespread
computerization of criminal history records in the United States.

According to the Society for Human Resource Management, more than 80 percent of U.S. employers perform criminal background checks on prospective employees.
1 Add two additional factors to that equation — advances in information
technology and growing concerns about employer liability — and we can begin to understand how complicated the issue of employing ex-offenders has become.

NY Considers Law Banning Shackling During Birth

AP Report

NEW YORK — For nearly four hours before she gave birth, Venita Pinckney had a chain wrapped around her swollen abdomen. Her ankles were shackled together and her hands were cuffed.

The 37-year-old was in a maximum-security prison for violating parole. An officer told her the use of restraints on pregnant inmates was "procedure."

"I'm saying to myself, 'I feel like a pregnant animal,'" said Pinckney, who was taken from the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility to a hospital for the birth of her boy last year.

At state prisons around the country, jailed women are routinely shackled during childbirth, often by correctional staff without medical training, according to civil rights organizations and prisoner advocates. The practice has been condemned by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists for unnecessarily risking women's health, and court challenges are pending in several states.

Federal prisons and five states largely ban shackling pregnant women in prison. Gov. David Paterson is expected to sign a law this week that would make New York the sixth state to do so.

"A woman giving birth to a child is hardly the first person that is going to be thinking of trying to escape or create any kind of problem," the governor said last week.

Correction departments and unions have argued that any broad-stroke policy that bans shackling could put medical staff and correctional officers at risk.

"We certainly use a common-sense approach regarding shackling, whether it's females or males," said Donn Rowe, the president of the New York State Correctional Officers & Police Benevolent Association, which represents 23,000 state employees. "A blanket policy ... doesn't fit all cases with something of this nature when you're dealing with some possibly dangerous inmates."

Erik Kriss, a spokesman for New York's Department of Correctional Services, said the state law would put staff at risk, noting the inmates are felons.

"They can coordinate on the outside to facilitate an escape. We have to be vigilant about those kinds of things," Kriss said.

It isn't clear how many inmates nationwide are affected by the practice. The federal Bureau of Justice Statistics said 4 percent of state inmates and 3 percent of federal inmates were pregnant in 2008 when they were first incarcerated. Data weren't available to indicate how many women delivered babies in prison or were restrained while doing so.

Malika Saada Saar, the executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Rebecca Project for Human Rights, said her organization is researching state-by-state data. Kriss said 43 New York inmates gave birth in 2008, but didn't know if any were "mechanically restrained."

The bill awaiting Paterson's signature would ban restraints on inmates giving birth, except when needed to keep a woman from injuring herself, medical staff or correctional officers. In those cases, women would be cuffed on one wrist while being taken from prison to the hospital.

Similar laws exist in Texas, Illinois, California, Vermont and New Mexico, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. Legislatures in Massachusetts and Tennessee are considering bans, too. Advocates say the bans haven't led to any escape attempts.

Tamar Kraft-Stolar, who works for the Correctional Association of New York, has lobbied for a law banning shackling. She said her organization had helped interview 15 to 20 current or formerly jailed women who said they were shackled during labor, delivery or recovery from childbirth in state prisons in 2008 and 2009.

The use of restraints, she said, "depended on which correction officer was on duty."

Trevor Lippman, an attorney with the ACLU's Reproductive Freedom Project, said that his organization still hears of cases even in states with written policies limiting the use of restraints.

Several lawsuits challenging the practice are pending throughout the country.

In Washington, former prison inmate Casandra Brawley sued in June saying she was shackled by a metal chain around her stomach while being transported to the hospital, and then fastened by a leg iron to a hospital bed through hours of labor. It was only because a physician objected to the restraints during an emergency Cesarean section that they were removed, the suit said.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Christie Donner on Independence Institute - Podcast

Here's the direct mp3 link:

Click here for podcast

Kansas: Budget Cuts Shorten Sentences

Kansas City News

TOPEKA, Kan. | Kansas' top corrections official said Monday that additional budget cuts for the prison system would make its lockups less safe and force the state to consider lighter sentences for its criminals.

Corrections Secretary Roger Werholtz said if his department were required to trim its spending again — after four previous rounds of state budget adjustments — it would have to consider cutting services for crime victims, reducing its supervision of parolees and closing a 554-bed minimum-security prison in Winfield.

Penry Criticizes Governors Plan

Channel 8

Monday Governor Bill Ritter put the finishing touches on his plan to cut $320 million from the State budget by next June.

The Governor has turned over a large notebook of information to the Legislature's Joint Budget Committee. It outlines the 100 cuts he plans to include in an executive order on September 1st. Most of the cuts will take effect right away. But, some will require new laws.

Governor Ritter has told lawmakers that his plan will include the elimination of up to 266 state employees and cuts to medical programs and prison services.

These cuts are expected to impact the Grand Valley. The 32-bed nursing facility at the Grand Junction Regional Center is on the chopping block.

Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry says he's very concerned about this proposal.

He says he knows Colorado needs to make spending reductions, but doesn't believe these cuts are the best way to trim the budget.

"We spend more than a million dollars each and every year, the state of Colorado does, hiring lobbyist to lobby state government for more money. Rather than cutting lobbyists, we are cutting basic services to the developmentally disabled," Penry, a Republican, says.

Shuttering the Regional Center's facility would force 32 developmentally disabled patients to be moved to other facilities.

Governor Ritter has said closing the Center will save 1.3 million dollars this fiscal year alone. But, it will eliminate 57 jobs.

Senator Penry says he is fighting for the program

"I've had meetings today (Monday). I pulled a group of stake holders together to see if there is a more thoughtful way to maybe find some additional savings for the State of Colorado, but stopping short of pulling the rug out from under 32 individuals who, frankly, are among the neediest people in our society," Penry says.

The Senator is also concerned about proposed cuts to the state's prison system. He says this could mean thousands of inmates would be released up to six months early. He believes some of those inmates have actually been denied parole by the state parole board.

Senator Penry says none of these proposals are cemented yet. He adds that legislators can choose to step in once they reconvene in January.

The Regional Center's nursing facility is expected to continue operating until February 1st.

Governor Ritter has said he does not want to make these cuts, but says it's essential to allow other state services to continue.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Heroin More Effective Than Methadone?

Drug War Chronicle

In a report that was actually completed last October but not published until this week in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers from the North American Opiate Medication Initiative (NAOMI) found that giving heroin under supervision to some hard-core drug addicts was more effective than giving them methadone. The study's publication in the prestigious peer-reviewed journal is already leading to calls for experiments with heroin maintenance in the US. To qualify for the study, participants had to have been addicted to heroin, Dilaudid, or another opiate for at least five years, have been injecting for at least the past year, have tried addiction treatment, including methadone maintenance, at least twice, and be at least 25 years of age. While researchers were loathe to generalize their findings, they described heroin maintenance as "a safe and effective treatment" for chronic addicts who have not taken to other forms of treatment.

In the NAOMI project, researchers monitored 251 heroin addicts in Vancouver and Montreal and provided them with maintenance drugs for a year under the supervision of nurses, doctors, social workers, and psychiatrists. One hundred fifteen received pharmaceutical heroin (diacetylmorphine), 111 received methadone, and 25 received Dilaudid (hydromorphone).

Among participants who received heroin by injection, 88% completed the program compared to 54% of those receiving oral methadone. Similarly, illicit drug use rates dropped by 67% among those receiving heroin, compared to 48% among those receiving methadone.

"Our data show remarkable retention rates and significant improvements in illicit heroin use, illegal activity and health for participants receiving injection assisted therapy, as well as those assigned to optimized methadone maintenance," said Dr. Martin Schechter, principal investigator for the Center for Health Evaluation and Outcome Sciences at the University of British Columbia School of Population and Public Health and NAOMI's lead researcher. "Prior to NAOMI, all of the study participants had not benefited from repeated standard addiction treatments. Society had basically written them off as impossible to treat," he said.

"We now have evidence to show that heroin-assisted therapy is a safe and effective treatment for people with chronic heroin addiction who have not benefited from previous treatments. A combination of optimal therapies -- as delivered in the NAOMI clinics -- can attract those most severely addicted to heroin, keep them in treatment and more importantly, help to improve their social and medical conditions," explained Schechter.

The NAOMI research results mirror similar findings from a number of European countries, a fact noted in a Journal editorial by Virginia Berridge. "The results of this trial may be added to those from Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland," Berridge wrote. "Switzerland has 10 years of experience in the prescription of heroin, and in a November 2008 referendum, 68% of voters were in favor of its continued prescription."

Priority Test: Health Care or Prisons

New York Times

At a time when we Americans may abandon health care reform because it supposedly is “too expensive,” how is it that we can afford to imprison people like Curtis Wilkerson?

Mr. Wilkerson is serving a life sentence in California — for stealing a $2.50 pair of socks. As The Economist noted recently, he already had two offenses on his record (both for abetting robbery at age 19), and so the “three strikes” law resulted in a life sentence.

This is unjust, of course. But considering that California spends almost $49,000 annually per prison inmate, it’s also an extraordinary waste of money.

Astonishingly, many politicians seem to think that we should lead the world in prisons, not in health care or education. The United States is anomalous among industrialized countries in the high proportion of people we incarcerate; likewise, we stand out in the high proportion of people who have no medical care — and partly as a result, our health care outcomes such as life expectancy and infant mortality are unusually poor.

It’s time for a fundamental re-evaluation of the criminal justice system, as legislation sponsored by Senator Jim Webb has called for, so that we’re no longer squandering money that would be far better spent on education or health. Consider a few facts:

¶The United States incarcerates people at nearly five times the world average. Of those sentenced to state prisons, 82 percent were convicted of nonviolent crimes, according to one study.

California spends $216,000 annually on each inmate in the juvenile justice system. In contrast, it spends only $8,000 on each child attending the troubled Oakland public school system, according to the Urban Strategies Council.

For most of American history, we had incarceration rates similar to those in other countries. Then with the “war on drugs” and the focus on law and order in the 1970s, incarceration rates soared.

One in 10 black men ages 25 to 29 were imprisoned last year, partly because possession of crack cocaine (disproportionately used in black communities) draws sentences equivalent to having 100 times as much powder cocaine. Black men in the United States have a 32 percent chance of serving time in prison at some point in their lives, according to the Sentencing Project

The Unforgiven

Santa Cruz News

It’s a sweltering day in Tracy. July behind bars at Deuel Vocational Institution smells like sweat, bleach and old orange peels. Clifford Bair, a white-haired, goateed first-degree murderer—a lifer—perches under a barred window’s light and talks about the day 25 years ago in Bodega Bay when he tied up Theresa Aiken and Rose Fomasi with electrical wire and left them to die.

“I’d been up for three days drinking and doing speed,” says the 64-year-old convict. “After I tied her up, I couldn’t believe it but I found her keys in a bowl by the door. I took her car and I left. All I had wanted was to take her car. I remember the detective telling me Miss Aiken had died in the night. I wanted to die too. I still do.”

To hear him tell it, many decisions and circumstances led his younger self—strung-out, self-loathing and addicted to meth—to the front door of the 86-year-old Aiken, the “Mother of Bodega Bay,” that day in 1984. And since then, many more decisions have been made by Inmate Bair and by the state institutions charged with “correcting and rehabilitating” him.
Bair, according to DVI spokesman Lt. Gilbert Valenzuela, is like a majority of lifers over 40 years old: “one of the good ones.” Enrolled in classes, active in a prison-based job, he’s padded his résumé for 25 years in hopes of wresting freedom from California’s Board of Parole Hearings. Yet despite his efforts at rehabilitation, he has little chance of becoming a free man.

That’s because the Board grants parole to fewer than 1 percent of lifers who are eligible, and those that are paroled are usually denied later by the governor.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Inmate Cuts Cause Concern About Crime

The Denver Post

Gov. Bill Ritter's plan to cut the state budget through inmate releases could reduce Colorado's prison population by 1,000 in a year and immediately save $19 million.

It will also almost certainly accelerate the commission of new crimes, and could force layoffs from a privately run prison, experts said.

Ritter's plan calls for trimming parole supervision for some inmates already out of prison, and releasing some non-sex-offender inmates early and placing them on parole. A total of 5,700 inmates or parolees could see their status change as a result of Ritter's cut.

A Metropolitan State College of Denver professor says it's unavoidable that a large number of those prisoners or parolees will commit new crimes.

"The recidivism rate in Colorado is between 40 and 60 percent within five years, depending on types of crimes," Metro State criminal justice professor Joseph Sandoval said. "I do think that the risk of release is that some will go on a crime spree and there may be a smaller amount that commit crimes that are heinous."

Each of the inmates who will be released early is someone who was within six months of getting out anyway. So, if the inmates follow historical patterns, the early release is more likely to accelerate the commission of new crimes rather than actually increase the crime rate over time, Sandoval said.

Still, Denver Police Chief Gerry Whitman said the mass release of prisoners across the state is of "great concern."

Private prisons wary

There is also concern about the plan's impact on privately run prisons.

Colorado's prison system is a mixture of state-run and privately run facilities. The private prisons make a profit largely based on efficiency, and they need full beds to get fully paid.

The largest of those companies working in Colorado, Corrections Corporation of America, is already fretting that reducing the prison population too far would be bad for the company's bottom line.

"We're hoping it doesn't put us in a position where our operations are not viable," said Steve Owen, spokesman for Tennessee-based CCA, which runs Crowley County Correctional Facility, Bent County Correctional Facility and Kit Carson Correctional Facility.

Marijuana Is Safer #14 on Amazon

The Denver Daily News

A smoking new read

Pot advocates produce book

Peter Marcus, DDN Staff Writer

Friday, August 21, 2009

A hero to potheads across the nation, local marijuana advocate Mason Tvert continues his smokin’ streak with Amazon.com best-selling book “Marijuana is Safer.”

His first book aims to convince supporters and opponents alike that marijuana is a safer recreational alternative to other substances like alcohol.

“Marijuana is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink?” is co-written by fellow pot experts Paul Armentano, deputy director of The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, and Steve Fox, director of state campaigns for the Marijuana Policy Project.

A launch event for the book will be held Sunday at 2 p.m. at 8 Rivers Cafe, 1550 Blake St.

Tvert became famous in Denver for leading voters to legalize the simple possession of marijuana in 2005. When police and city officials ignored the will of voters by continuing to arrest people for the possession of one ounce or less of marijuana, Tvert and his organization, Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation, fought back. A subsequent voter-approved initiative in 2007 made the cops promise to make marijuana their “lowest law enforcement priority.”

The 2007 initiative created the Marijuana Policy Review Panel, which includes both city leaders and citizens with the aim of holding police to the voters’ demand of not arresting people for the simple possession of weed. The panel worked. Earlier this year Tvert announced that marijuana prosecutions dropped 21 percent.

He hopes to continue that trend with “Marijuana is Safer.”

“There’s been a great deal of debate surrounding marijuana and marijuana laws, but too many Americans are still unaware of the fact that marijuana is far safer than alcohol,” Tvert told the Denver Daily News yesterday. “The book’s message that marijuana prohibition, paired with current alcohol laws, is driving people to drink is something many people haven’t considered — we’re trying to highlight the fact that we’re not trying to promote a drug, we’re trying to provide an alternative, a safer alternative to alcohol.”

The book uses research and scientific evidence to compare and contrast the relative harms and legal status of both marijuana and alcohol. In the end, there has never been a documented case of someone dying from marijuana use, but every year 100,000 Americans die from alcohol-related causes.

Big seller

Readers must be interested in the topic — as of press time last night, “Marijuana is Safer” was listed as No. 17 on Amazon.com’s top 100 bestsellers, making “Marijuana is Safer” the all-time top-selling marijuana-related book on Amazon.com.

The book has been endorsed by medical and psychology professors, law enforcement officials, former New Mexico Republican Gov. Gary Johnson, an executive with the conservative-leaning Cato Institute, a former executive with the American Civil Liberties Union, and even by professional athletes.

“It’s going great, more and more people are coming to realize marijuana is safer than alcohol, and as a result, more and more people are open to discussing reform and allowing adults to make the safer choice,” said Tvert. “Support for marijuana reform has grown every year here in Denver and it certainly seems to be growing on the national level.”

The outspoken pot advocate believes reform will happen on a state-by-state basis. SAFER ran a statewide voter initiative in 2006 attempting to legalize the simple possession of marijuana, but voters rejected the question. Tvert believes, however, that support is growing.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

5 Stages Of Grief Over Drug Policies

Huffington Post

Like the stages people who experience grief due to a personal tragedy pass through, people concerned about modifying American drug policies have dialed through these five stages since Barack Obama was elected President of the United States:

1. Unbounded enthusiasm. Drug reform advocates, along with other progressives, were wild with anticipation when Barack Obama was elected President. Aside from his remarkable background and intelligence, he was extremely well-informed about drug reform initiatives -- including clean needle programs, discrepancies in sentencing for crack and powder cocaine (which punish minorities disproportionately), and noninterference with states that have enacted medical marijuana (MM) statutes. Moreover, he called the war on drugs an "utter failure."

2. Anxiety. During the run-up to Obama's selection of a Drug Czar, a name often mentioned was Jim Ramstad, former Congressman and a recovering alcoholic who opposed all major drug reforms (e.g., needle exchange, methadone maintenance). Why would Obama even consider such a Neanderthal, his supporters wondered. Where was he coming from in all of this, they asked themselves through sleepless nights.

3. Cautious optimism. Instead, the President selected Gil Kerlikowske, who was not known for being out front in reforming drug policies as Seattle Police Chief, but who also didn't fight the city's needle exchange program and low priority on marijuana possession enforcement, nor Washington state's MM laws. Ethan Nadelmann, director of the Drug Policy Alliance and the country's leading reform advocate, declared himself "cautiously optimistic"

Getting Smart On Crime

NY Times

After decades of supercharged incarceration rates, our bloated prison system is straining under its own weight, and policy makers are finally being forced to deal with the need to shrink it.

According to a study last year by The Pew Center on the States entitled “One in 100: Behind bars in America 2008,” the prison population of the United States has nearly quadrupled over the last 25 years while the nation’s population has grown by less than a third.

We now have more inmates per capita than any of the 36 European countries with the largest inmate populations, and our total number of inmates is more than all the inmates in those countries combined.

This comes at a cost. According to a report published last month by the Vera Institute of Justice, an independent, nonprofit research group, $1 in every $15 from states’ general funds is now spent on corrections. That doesn’t work in a recession.

Much of the rise in the prison population was because of draconian mandatory sentencing laws that are illogical — sociologically and economically.

On the sociological side, as the criminal justice expert Joel Dvoskin of the University of Arizona explained to me, data overwhelmingly support the idea that locking up low-risk, nonviolent offenders makes them worse, not better.

A study from a decade ago that was published in the journal American Psychologist put it this way: “Department of corrections data show that about a fourth of those initially imprisoned for nonviolent crimes are sentenced a second time for committing a violent offense. Whatever else it reflects, this pattern highlights the possibility that prison serves to transmit violent habits and values rather than to reduce them.”

Budget Minimizes Pain

By Governor Bill Ritter

Over the past few months, I have worked closely with lawmakers to erase nearly $1.5 billion in recession-caused budget shortfalls. On Tuesday, I presented a new plan to close an additional $318 million gap.

These are not easy times for any of us. I grew up in a big family of modest means. There were periods when my father couldn't find work, when the only way my mother could put dinner on the table was with food stamps. I know what it's like to struggle, and I know families and businesses across Colorado continue to hurt.

That's why I approached this round of budget cutting and balancing thoughtfully, surgically and compassionately. We've made great progress the past 2 1/2 years investing in education, health care, the economy and infrastructure. This balancing plan reflects the same smart investment strategy, the same ethic of efficiency and the same culture of cost-cutting I've instilled in state government since January 2007.

This plan minimizes pain, protects essential safety-net services, and maintains investments in our children and our future that will allow us to recover stronger, healthier and quicker.

There are more than 100 separate line-item reductions in this plan and, along with earlier cuts, it lowers state spending levels by 10.4 percent compared with a year ago.

I worked hard to soften impacts and ensure that eliminated services will be effectively provided at the community level. Nevertheless, there is still much pain and sacrifice asked of Coloradans.

Critics will say we did not cut enough or that we should have eliminated tax breaks. It was important to reduce spending, find innovation and achieve greater efficiencies. I could not support erasing this shortfall by eliminating the very tax credits that keep our businesses and economy competitive with other states. And many of these sales-tax exemptions, such as those on food and pharmaceuticals, protect consumers all across Colorado.

While the economic downturn poses challenge after challenge, it also created an opportunity to enact an innovative recommendation from the Colorado Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice that fits within my ongoing anti-prison- recidivism initiative.

As part of this balancing plan, we will save $20 million through a pilot program that will:

• Accelerate the transition from parole to community for eligible parolees.

• Enhance supervision and education, job-training and treatment services for new parolees.

• Accelerate the transition from prison to parole for parole-eligible inmates whose mandatory release date is within 180 days anyway.

I was a criminal prosecutor for 25 years, and I know we need new approaches to corrections. This pilot program is based on research, evidence and experience. More than half of all states are adjusting their corrections and sentencing procedures in the face of declining revenues.

By taking these steps, we were able to protect vital health care and human service programs, while also maintaining investments in job-creation, economic development and education.

Ritter's Budget A Credible Plan

The Denver Post

Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter on Tuesday unveiled an array of painful state budget cuts to shore up a $318 million gap in this year's budget.

Some of the cuts, such as the early release of some prisoners, are risky and will be roundly criticized.

Even though all of the implications from the cuts aren't yet known, we think the governor has presented a credible plan under difficult circumstances.

Unfortunately, the pain could be felt by some of our most vulnerable citizens as the state cuts Medicaid payments to doctors and hospitals.

State government also will shed 267 jobs and slash funding to higher education by nearly $81 million. That money, however, will be backfilled at least for this year by federal stimulus money. But next year, higher ed will feel the pain, too.

But perhaps most controversially, about 2,600 criminals will be either let out of prison up to six months early or see their parole supervision time cut after showing good behavior.

The corrections reductions, sobering to contemplate, are expected to save nearly $19 million.

The risks are obvious. What if one of them does something horrible shortly after being released from prison or parole?

You can bet the governor's political opponents are sharpening their knives in anticipation of criticizing him for this move.

But reducing prison costs is a fiscal necessity. There just isn't much else to cut in the state budget beyond education and social services.

Other states have found themselves in the same budgetary corner, and have made a variety of cuts to prisons.

Ritter, a longtime prosecutor, clearly had thought very carefully about the issue and presented a well-reasoned plan.

The former Denver district attorney wouldn't have agreed to it if he didn't think it would work, or if he had other options.

The state parole board now will consider for release certain prisoners who have served long enough to be eligible for parole and are within six months of mandatory release.

These prisoners won't be sex offenders, murderers or kidnappers. The governor characterized them as drug offenders, burglars and the like. The parole board will consider release on a case-by-case basis and will have the final say on who is let out early.

Those who are released will get closer supervision. The governor proposes paying for it by getting people off of parole sooner if they have served more than half of their term. Research suggests that if someone is going to violate their parole, they do it early.

Dispensaries Cropping Up

The Denver Post

There's a young woman with a French-tip pedicure and a toddler on her hip. Next comes a 20-something data analyst in pain from an infection. And a 60-year-old guy limping around in what appears to be a medieval torture device screwed into his leg in an effort to re-fuse shattered bones.

They all came to the Hemp and Cannabis Foundation's Wheat Ridge clinic one morning last week seeking the same thing: medical marijuana.

Odds are they'll get it. First off, they've been highly screened. Secondly, a whole lot of people in Colorado are getting medical marijuana these days: In the past year, the number of people on the state's medical-marijuana registry has nearly tripled.

And in a development that has health officials on edge, a growing number of those on the registry are men under the age of 30, diagnosed with severe pain. At the end of last year, that category accounted for 18 percent of those on the registry. Now, they make up 24 percent.

The explosion of consumer demand for medical marijuana has spawned concern among some but represents opportunity for others to move medical marijuana into the mainstream.

"It's a growing area, a growing field," said Brian Vicente, director of Sensible Colorado, a pro-marijuana advocacy group.

By summer's end, there could be as many as 60 medical-marijuana "dispensaries" in Colorado, according to the founder of Colorado Medical Marijuana, which catalogues the dispensaries on its website.

The founder, Todd, asked that only his first name be used because he straddles two worlds — the marijuana business and the real estate business.

Getting Out Early

The Denver Post

Gov. Bill Ritter proposes to save almost $19 million by letting as many as 3,100 inmates out of prison six months earlier than their mandatory release dates and halting the supervision of some parolees.

But the public need not worry, said Ritter, formerly Denver's district attorney.

"People coming out of prison are going to have more supervision tomorrow than they did yesterday," he said.

That's because the state plans to add almost nine new positions to provide intensive parole supervision.

Ritter stressed that sex offenders are not eligible to leave supervision because they face a lifetime parole.

The Democratic governor announced his corrections proposals Tuesday as part of his effort to reduce a $318 million budget shortfall.

Budget officials estimate about 3,100 inmates will be eligible for the early release, provided the state Parole Board grants them parole, said Katherine Sanguinetti, spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections.

Also, budget officials estimate about 2,600 former inmates currently on parole will no longer need to be supervised. Those parolees must have completed at least six months of parole or 50 percent of their parole period and completed all of their goals.

Studies show that after that point, parolees usually don't need supervision, said Ritter's budget director, Todd Saliman.

Ari Zavaras, director of the Department of Corrections, and Pete Weir, director of the Department of Public Safety, on Friday briefed the Colorado Commission on Crime and Juvenile Justice of the prison and parole changes.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Upside Of Fear

Article Written by Lewis Carlyle
Click here to download the PDF of this article

FIVE years ago, Wally Long stepped out of prison without a dime to his name. Today, he’s one of the most successful business owners in the state of Colorado. He travels the nation giving motivational speeches, coaching business owners on methods for success, and is in the final stages of his autobiography, From Prison to Paradise.

“I was broke and drunk for twenty years,” Long recalls as he sips coffee with his family in the living room of their log cabin in the hills of Woodland Park. “And out of those twenty years I spent about 13 in and out of federal and state prison.” Long came to Colorado in 1987 as a 23 year old high school drop out. “One night I picked up a hitch hiker, and two hours later he and I were robbing two guys coming out of a restaurant.

There was a low speed chase for about an hour and then a big scene in Castle Rock where they had us spread out on I25.” Serving four years of an eight year sentence, Long emerged from his first stint in prison in 1991.

“At that point, I hadn’t learned anything, in fact I was worse. I had a huge chip on my shoulder. When I was younger I thought I was going to do some cool things with my life; but after getting out of prison I had kind of adopted that I was a criminal. I was out for a year when I went back to prison. From 1987 to 1996, I spent about six of those nine years locked up.”

In June of 1996, Wally Long was in federal custody on an indictment for mail fraud when his father passed away. “That was my epiphany,” recalls Long, “my moment of clarity. I was a three time loser, facing seven more years in prison, my son was three years old, his mother and I were not getting along, I had no education, no money, no future. . . And then something interesting happened. In the days following my dad’s death, I began to stop and think: my father’s last memory of me was that I was in prison again. Looking back, I realized how pathetic I must have looked in his eyes.”

At that point, Long decided it was time to start searching for an answer. He took solace in three books that would soon change his life: Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen R. Covey, You Can Work Your Own Miracles, by Napoleon Hill, and Real Magic, by Wayne Dyer. “The lesson I took from these books was that we’re all completely responsible for our own actions. I had spent my entire young life blaming the judges and the prosecutors and all these other people, and never taking responsibility for my own actions.”

Long then began to learn about the law of attraction, which is theorized in the writings of Napoleon Hill and Wayne Dyer. “We create our lives by the nature of our thoughts,” says Long, “so I began to write out what an awesome life for me would look like, down to the last detail.”
Long’s list consisted of a home, a loving wife, an education, financial stability, and perhaps most important, that he was a man of character. “All of these things seemed a one in a million shot for me,” Long recalls.

“But I would read this list, meditate on it, and visualize it every day for seven years.”

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Two Acres Of Hope For Recovering Addicts

New York Times

GARRISON, N.Y. — It was shortly after 8 a.m. on a sun-drenched July day in this idyllic hamlet 50 miles north of Manhattan, and a hulk of a man named Venice Crafton was lumbering between beds of arugula, leaving outsize footprints in his wake.

Mr. Crafton is 6-foot-2 ½ inches, 241 pounds and missing his two front teeth, all of which might have made him seem menacing but for the wide-brimmed, slightly floppy straw hat on his head.

“Boy, if they could see me now in Brooklyn, they wouldn’t believe it,” said Mr. Crafton, who was raised in Brownsville. “This goes no further than this farm,” he added to the half-dozen co-workers around him.

The men responded with grins and low grunts. They were immersed in their work, tugging heads of lettuce from the soil, culling the leaves and rinsing the produce in a plastic pail filled with water.

“I’m not used to doing this stuff,” Mr. Crafton, 48, grumbled.

“You can’t tell with that hat,” came someone’s retort.

It was all in a day’s work at an unlikely flyspeck of a place: a two-acre organic vegetable farm bordered by a forest and gentle hills, where two dozen men were quietly fighting for their lives.

The farm is run by recovering addicts and alcoholics from New York City, men whose various addictions, and repeated relapses, have left them sickened and homeless. Called Renewal Farm, the patch of land boasts neat rows of vegetables and bright flowers, as well as two greenhouses fashioned out of thick sheets of plastic.

The men’s days are split into two very different parts. They tend the farm, lacing the air with locker-room banter and gentle ribbing. And then they exorcise their worries and voice their hopes at St. Christopher’s Inn, a hilltop rehabilitation center nearby where they sleep.

The men’s lives are shot through with such contrasts. They are urban, transplanted to the country. They have dark pasts, but they spend their days in bucolic surroundings. They come from the gritty streets, but they grow trendy produce, often for rarefied palates. In this patchwork existence, they do have one constant thread: the knowledge that they are teetering on the brink.

“It’s a last resort,” said one participant, James Fletcher, who is 58 but looks far older, his cheeks lined and eyes sunken by decades of heroin abuse.

The transition to the farm can be unnerving.

Program Aims to Keep People From Returning To Prison

The Gazette

The first two times Glen Tatro was released from prison, freedom proved temporary. He thinks his his third prison sentence, though, will be his last.

The difference is a new ex-offender program in Colorado Springs that aims to prevent inmates like Tatro from returning to crime by providing free medical care, mental health treatment and life-skills training.

The strategy is critical for inmates like Tatro, who suffers from schizoaffective disorder, a mental illness marked by mood swings and psychosis. Mental health treatment in prison turned his behavior around and kept him out of trouble, eliminating the voices he heard and the mania that kept him awake for days.
Because of his good behavior, he moved to a halfway house in June and has a shot at early release. But the prison no longer provides his medical care.

So the Comprehensive Healthcare Re-entry Program, launched last fall by SET Family Medical Clinics and several other local non-profits, provides him mental health treatment and medications.
The program hinges on the belief that a healthy ex-offender with easy access to medical care is more likely to get and keep a job. It will take three years to determine if it meets its goal of reducing recidivism, but cases like Tatro’s have staff optimistic that it will be a success.

19 Prisoners Die In Mexico

New York Times

MEXICO CITY — A prison riot in northern Mexico that left 19 inmates dead and more than 20 injured on Friday increased the pressure on the Mexican government to overhaul its overcrowded penal system.

“The penitentiary at Gómez Palacio continues to be a time bomb,” Jorge Torres Castillo, the public safety secretary in the northern state of Durango, said in an interview with the Televisa network on Friday.

He said the penitentiary in Gómez Palacio, a low- to medium-security state prison about 135 miles south of the Texas border, was housing federal inmates on serious drug and organized crime charges.

“I think it is precisely the federal inmates who disturb the internal dynamics of the penitentiary,” he said, “and they place the governance of it at constant risk.”

Because of a shortage of space in federal prisons, dangerous prisoners are often held in state lockups, which are typically far less secure.

It was a state prison in Zacatecas where 53 inmates, most of them drug traffickers, escaped in May with the help of colleagues on the outside.

A fight among inmates in a state prison in the border city of Reynosa left 21 prisoners dead in October. The month before, 23 prisoners died in two riots in a state prison in Tijuana.

Stricter Drunk Driving Laws

The Denver Post

Drunken driving sentences in Colorado can vary widely — too widely, we think — based on a confounding array of factors including county jail capacity.

Someone in one county shouldn't get home detention while someone in another jurisdiction, who has committed the same offense, goes to jail.

While we don't subscribe to a one-size-fits-all philosophy when it comes to sentencing, we do think it's sensible to increase the penalty for multiple drunken driving offenses, perhaps even making it a felony.

Someone who has been convicted of drunken driving seven times should not be serving their sentence sitting on their couch at home watching cable TV.

The Colorado Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice has made driving under the influence penalties part of the sentencing overhaul the commission is conducting, which is a smart move. We look forward to their recommendations.

Disparities in drunken driving penalties have been highlighted in recent Denver Post stories by staffers Kevin Vaughan, David Olinger and Burt Hubbard.

The Post did an analysis of four years of sentencing data, finding that judges had wide-ranging sentencing patterns, some routinely sending drunken drivers to jail and others choosing home detention — even for those with multiple convictions.

Though judicial philosophy was a factor — judges have varying ideas about effective punishment — the differences also were a function of county jail space.

When the county jail is full or over capacity, judges sometimes face a dilemma: Should they send the drunken driver there or reserve jail beds for those who are thought to be more dangerous?

But drunken driving is dangerous. And as of now, it's only a misdemeanor in Colorado. It's a felony only when the driver seriously injures or kills someone. Also, defendants who have three major traffic offenses, such as DUI, could be socked with a "habitual traffic offender" charge, which could be a felony.

We think multiple drunken driving offenses — perhaps the third or fourth offense — ought to trigger an automatic bumping up to a felony. At that point, all defendants would be subject to the parameters of the state system.

This still would allow some judicial discretion to take into account the particulars of the crime, which is an important function of the criminal justice system.

The Colorado Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice has been working to come up with a broad framework to reform state sentencing, recommendations they'll forward to the state legislature.

One of the aims of the overhaul, which we support, is to investigate adjusting sentencing ranges for non-violent, property and some drug crimes to reduce the number of people who go to prison.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Phony Lawyer Gets Four Years

AP Report

Limon Employee Arrested In Intenet Sex Sting

The Denver Channel
An employee at the Limon Correctional Facility has been arrested in an Internet child sex sting.According to police in Fort Lupton, James F. Clark, 53, was arrested Thursday afternoon after he drove from Colorado Springs to Fort Lupton to meet a 14-year-old girl.Detective Crystal Schwartz with Fort Lupton police had been communicating with Clark for some time on the Internet, posing as the girl. "These 'chats' became very explicit and sexual in nature," a news release stated. "Clark indicated several times that he wanted to meet with the 'girl' and drove to Fort Lupton."Police said Clark was arrested when he showed up for the meeting. Police said they recovered a camera during the arrest that Clark planned to use to take photos of the girl.He was arrested on investigation of Internet luring of a child and sexual exploitation of a child."I am once again shocked that the suspect is involved in law enforcement," said police Chief Ron Grannis. "Crystal worked very hard on this case ... This is the seventh predator arrest that Detective Schwartz has made. We are going to continue to actively pursue these predators in an effort to protect our children."It was not immediately clear what Clark did at the Limon Correctional Facility.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Text Message From Jail


FRESNO, Calif., Aug. 14, 2009 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Continental Prison Systems, Inc. (Pink Sheets:CPSZ), dba EZ Card & Kiosk, installed its newest service offering, called EZ Text Messaging, and trained the entire staff at Pueblo County Jail, Pueblo, Colorado on this unique feature that will expedite the inmate release process, reducing the time an inmate spends in the facility.

EZ Text Messaging allows the inmate during the booking process to send up to three text messages to their family, friends and/or lawyer via the EZ Booking Kiosk, which also accepts the inmate's cash and posts to the facility's accounting system. These text messages notify the recipient of the location and status of the inmate, and lists a reply phone number, as well as an EZ Card & Kiosk secure website, where they can remotely post bail. This new feature, which is an expanded software service to existing kiosks, represents another user transaction-based revenue stream.

Ron Hodge, CEO and Product Development Manager, states that, "This newest feature to our line-up of unique applications, serving the city and county jails, is another example of how EZ Card & Kiosk continues to listen to our customer base and deliver new services that assist them in better managing their detention facility at reduced overhead costs."

For additional information about EZ Card and Kiosk solutions, please visit our website at www.ezcardandkiosk.com.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Downtown Dispensary in Aspen

The Denver Post

Aspen is about to get its first medical-marijuana dispensary.

The manager of Aspen L.E.A.F. (Locals Emporium of Alternative Farms), who asked to be identified only as Charlie, said Wednesday that a local ownership group plans to open a dispensary in downtown Aspen next week. It is currently looking at a couple of locations to set up shop, and a lease will be signed within days.

"We're looking at two locations in the center of town," Charlie said. "We've spoken to the landlords, and they are very supportive of it."

Under Colorado's medical-marijuana law, approved by voters in 2000, patients with certain conditions — including HIV, muscle spasms and chronic pain — can use medical marijuana as long as they get a doctor's approval and register with the state.

The Aspen marijuana dispensary will become the Roaring Fork Valley's third.

The WIN Health Institute, an alternative health care cooperative located in Basalt, was set to open a dispensary this month, and the Colorado Mountain Dispensary opened for business in Carbondale in early July.

Read what Charlie has planned at AspenTimes.com.

Colorado's Prisons Structured To Fail

The Examiner

Mike peers from beneath the sackcloth he uses as a blanket, watching coldly as the other shelter residents ready themselves for sleep. The room is lined with beds and smells of body odor and unwashed clothes. Near the entrance, several men are laughing at another man’s banal, explicit clowning. But Mike is not in the mood for nonsense. Restless and desperate, he wonders how much longer he can maintain.

It has been four weeks since he was released from prison, after serving four years for a child abuse charge. While in prison he came to terms with his problem, realizing he was addicted not only to his anger, but to the adrenaline rush it gives him. He vowed to himself when he was released that he would never go down that road again. He is prohibited from any contact with his son, and he understandingly complies. Required by his parole to attend anger management classes every week, he does so dutifully.

But the roadblocks for felony offenders in Colorado are wearing him down. He can’t secure employment beyond day labor because the ID card he was issued by the Department of Corrections is invalid for DMV or Social Security purposes. And his felony conviction has prohibited him from being accepted by every apartment he has applied for.

The only place that will accept him is the Salvation Army’s Crossroads homeless shelter, which is where many newly released prisoners end up. Entrance to the shelter is limited; residents are required to leave from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily, rain or shine. Life in the shelter is not unlike prison. The other day, he watched as two former DOC inmates beat down another man in the smoking area out back and took all his money. A shelter volunteer, responsible for halting such activity, laughed as he watched and then did nothing. Very much like a prison guard.

Three Strikes Law Getting Second Glance

The Denver Post

SEATTLE — Stevan Dozier was 25 when he punched a woman in the face to snatch her purse, part of the cash-for-crack crime wave that plagued big cities during the 1980s.

Over the next eight years, he would be arrested three more times for the same thing. But just before his last conviction, Washington in 1993 became the first state to pass a law requiring criminals with three serious felony convictions to spend the rest of their lives in prison. Half of the states now have similar laws.

Dozier, who never caused a serious injury or used a weapon, disappeared behind bars without a chance for parole — along with more than 290 other Washington inmates convicted under the three-strikes law.

"I went through a period of depression going into Walla Walla State Penitentiary," said Dozier, 47. "I had been to jail before, but I always went in with release dates. Your vision is, 'I just gotta make it to this date.' But then, there was no date."

That was before the district attorney's office that sent him to prison, the conservative talk radio host who pushed Washington's law and the judge who sentenced him all came to agree that despite the public's demand to keep career criminals behind bars, three strikes shouldn't always mean never getting out.

In May, Gov. Chris Gregoire, a Democrat, signed Dozier's appeal for clemency, making him the first three-strikes lifer in the nation to be pardoned.

The Pardons and Clemency Board in June recommended freeing Al-Kareem Shadeed, 39, and Michael Bridges, 47, who both had been sentenced to life without parole in the mid-1990s for stealing wallets.

"My sentence is the same as the Green River killer's. . . . And other people who have viciously murdered and raped women and children are getting out of prison while I never will," Shadeed wrote in January.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Marijuana Is Safer...

Mason's book is being released Thursday

Company Overview:
Marijuana is Safer compares and contrasts the relative harms and legal status of the two most popular recreational substances in the world—marijuana and alcohol. Through an objective examination of the two drugs and the laws and social practices that steer people toward alcohol, the authors pose a simple yet rarely considered question: Why do we punish adults who make the rational, safer choice to use marijuana instead of alcohol?
The book that's changing the way people think -- and talk -- about marijuana.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Chino Prison Riot

the New York Times

Around 200 inmates were injured, 55 seriously, over the weekend in an 11-hour prison riot in California that appears to have had strong racial overtones. Officials are still investigating, but a major cause is already clear: 5,900 men were being held in a facility designed for 3,000. The violence should serve as a warning to officials across the country not to try to balance state budgets by holding inmates in inhumane conditions.

California has already ignored too many warnings. In 2007, a state oversight agency declared that “California’s correctional system is in a tailspin.” That same year, a prison expert warned that the California Institution for Men in Chino, the site of the recent riot, was “a serious disturbance waiting to happen.”

Last week, just days before the riot, a three-judge federal panel ordered the state to reduce its prison population of more than 150,000 by about 40,000 within the next two years. That was the only way, the panel ruled, to bring the prison health care system up to constitutional standards.

The 184-page order painted a grim and alarming picture — with some state prison facilities at nearly 300 percent of intended capacity and some prisoners forced to sleep in triple-bunk beds in gymnasiums. “In these overcrowded conditions,” the court said, “inmate-on-inmate violence is almost impossible to prevent.”

California’s problem — like much of the nation’s — is a mismatch between its harsh sentencing policies and its willingness to pay to keep so many people locked up for so long. A few years ago, it went to the Supreme Court to defend its right, under the state’s three-strikes law, to sentence a shoplifter to 25 years to life.