The Denver Post
By all appearances, the people lined up at the handsome oak counter with frosted-glass dividers could be in a quiet suburban post office.
Clerks with scales are answering customers' questions; credit cards are being swiped.
But look closer at the merchandise and the brand names emblazoned on the glass display jars: AK-47, Flying Monkey, Purple Haze, Jack Flash, Kali Mist.
The shop is Patients Choice at 2251 S. Broadway. It is one of dozens of medical-marijuana dispensaries that have sprouted in metro Denver since Colorado legalized the use of pot by patients who hold doctor-approved state permits.
Cannabis clinics are providing relief for clients and serious profits for caregivers, the people authorized by the state to distribute marijuana to patients. Green isn't just the color of the high-end pot that can sell for $350 an ounce. The scent of money in the air is as strong as the herb.
"We're here for the long haul, not to fill our pockets and run," said Jim Bent, co-owner of Patients Choice. "We want to make this a sustainable business."
State and city governments likely will have something to say about that. Colorado legislators have announced plans to more tightly regulate the budding businesses. Court rulings are already tightening the rules for selling legal weed.
While dispensers anticipate stiffer laws — even in the wake of the federal government banning the prosecution of medical-marijuana users — the shops are thriving. And despite the media swirl and pot's longtime status as cultural and legal whipping boy, business at the dispensaries is mellow.
A Wii set-up and bongs
Colin Gordon co-owns Nature's Kiss at 4332 S. Broadway in Englewood. His shop, in a former feed store, has a smoking area that would be at home in a frat house: It has sofas, a piano, a pool table, a big-screen TV with Wii hookup, and bongs. A juice bar is in the works.
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.
Friday, October 30, 2009
The Denver Post
Thursday, October 29, 2009
The Denver Post
The Colorado Court of Appeals has upheld the marijuana cultivation conviction of a Longmont woman, ruling that a person designated as a medical marijuana "caregiver" must do more than just supply the drug to patients.
In a special concurring opinion, Judge Alan Loeb wrote that Colorado's consitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana "cries out for legislative action."
The case involved a woman named Stacy Clendenin, who in 2006 was charged with cultivating marijuana in a Longmont home.
Clendenin argued that the marijuana she grew in the home was then distributed to authorized patients through marijuana dispensaries.
But the appeals court ruled that simply knowing that the end user of marijuana is a patient is not enough. Instead, the court said, a care-giver authorized to grow marijuana must actually know the patients who use it.
"We conclude that to qualify as a 'primary care-giver' a person must do more than merely supply a patient who has a debilitating medical condition with marijuana," the court ruled.
The ruling, if upheld on appeal, could change the process now in place to supply the burgeoning medical marijuana industry in Colorado — if the Colorado Legislature doesn't restrict it first.
Attorney General John Suthers applauded the decision.
"I am pleased to see the Court of Appeals' has provided legal support for our case that a caregiver, under Amendment 20, must do more than simply provide marijuana to a patient," Suthers said. "I also was pleased to see the assertion in the special concurrence that Amendment 20 'cries out for legislative action.' I could not agree more. I hope the legislature will act and create a regulatory framework that gives substance to the Court of Appeals' findings."
at 1:13 PM
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
The Denver Post
A proposal to privatize a prison being built in Canon City - that the state cannot afford to staff - has drawn mostly jeers from state policymakers.
Love it or hate it, it's part of a resurgence in the prison privatization trend as states wallow in budget shortfalls. The state of Arizona is moving to privatize its entire system to save money.
Trouble is, studies about the cost effectiveness of privatization are mixed.
It's understandable that some in Colorado want to sell the prison, but they must prove it would be a money saver and that the prison will be operated to state standards.
Make no mistake, those are tough benchmarks to meet.
The idea of selling Colorado State Penitentiary II comes from state Rep. Glenn Vaad, R-Mead. Recent published reports said Vaad would introduce a bill proposing the sale of the $208 million maximum security prison, which is under construction and will be finished in the spring.
However, the state won't immediately open the prison because it can't afford to pay the nearly 500 workers it would take to run the facility.
"That's unconscionable in my mind," Vaad said, according to an Associated Press report. "We invested $208 million of the taxpayers' money and because of the economic downturn, we can't afford to open it. Let's sell it."
Giving over operation of a high-security prison complex to a private corporation leaves some uneasy.
Colorado Attorney General John Suthers has opposed the plan, saying he opposes private-sector management of a maximum security prison.
"If you look around the country," Suthers said, according to the AP story, "placing maximum security detention into private hands has not gone well."
Given the difficulties the state has had with medium security prisons in private hands, it's tough to imagine ceding to private companies the task of incarcerating the state's worst criminals.
Furthermore, the new prison is in a secured area among six other state prisons. It would house 967 dangerous state inmates and would share kitchen and support facilities with a public prison. The layout would make the physical disentanglement of the new prison from the public facilities even more difficult.
And then there are financial difficulties. The prison was built with $41 million in state money, said state corrections spokeswoman Katherine Sanguinetti, and the rest was financed with certificates of participation, a complex financing tool.
at 8:14 AM
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
CANON CITY - Because of budgetary concerns, Colorado State Penitentiary II will not open next July as initially planned, and at least one legislator thinks the prison should be sold.
Construction of the $162 million administrative-maximum-security prison at the East Canon Prison Complex is 80 percent complete and, so far, under budget, said Katherine Sanguinetti, Department of Corrections spokeswoman. The problem is finding the funds to staff it.
The initial plan was to open it in July 2010, but "it will not open in July or during the next fiscal year," due to budget concerns, said Sanguinetti.
Rep. Glenn Vaad, R-Weld County, will run a bill in the upcoming legislative session that proposes to sell the prison, perhaps to a private prison company. That suggestion has been met with a lukewarm response from corrections and elected officials.
"We will let the legislative process take its course," Sanguinetti said. There long has been a need for additional administrative-maximum-security beds as the state's only such lock up - Colorado State Penitentiary - has filled every one of its 756 beds, and the male inmate population historically continues to grow. The new top security prison was approved by the legislature and then Gov. Bill Owens in 2003 at a cost of $102 million, but a lawsuit delayed the construction, driving up the price.
The construction of the prison was funded by certificates of participation, but the state cannot afford to pay the nearly 500 workers it will take to staff the prison, which will house 967 high-risk classification inmates.
"There are operational issues we will have to deal with (until the empty prison building opens) - mainly physical plant and routine maintenance issues," Sanguinetti said.
Although the prison may not be able to open right away, and probably won't have a lot of buyers lining up to plunk down that kind of cash if the legislature does decide to sell it, the DOC usually finds a way to make use of its empty buildings.
Through Colorado Correctional Industries, the Colorado Women's Prison in Canon City, which closed in June, is seeing new use.
"We are moving some offices into Colorado Women's and Correctional Industries is using it for training classes for some Mexican corrections officials. They are training and learning from us and staying in a dorm at the prison and they also are getting breakfast, dinner and a box lunch there," Sanguinetti said. "This department is not wasteful."
at 5:27 PM
Monday, October 26, 2009
The Denver Post
Rather than serving in the U.S. Senate for almost 20 years, or having so many other wonderful life experiences, I could have served a longer sentence in prison for some of the stupid, reckless things I did as a teenager. I am grateful to have gotten a second chance — and I believe our society should make a sustained investment in offering second chances to our youth.
When I was a teen, we rode aimlessly around town, shot things up, started fires and generally raised hell. It was only dumb luck that we never really hurt anyone. At 17, I was caught destroying federal property and was put on probation. For two years, my probation officer visited me and my friends at home, in the pool hall, at school and on the basketball court. He was a wonderful guy who listened and really cared. I did pretty well on probation. At 21, though, I got into a fight in a tough part of town and ended up in jail for hitting a police officer.
I spent only one night in jail, but that was enough. I remember thinking, "I don't need too much more of this."
I had a chance to turn my life around, and I took it. This term, the U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether other young people get that same chance.
On Nov. 9, the court will hold oral argument in Sullivan vs. Florida and Graham vs. Florida, two cases that will determine whether it is constitutional to sentence a teenager to life in prison without parole for a crime that did not involve the taking of a life. There is a simple reason the criminal justice system should treat juveniles and adults differently: Kids are a helluva lot dumber than adults. They do stupid things — as I did — and some even commit serious crimes, but youths don't really ever think through the consequences. It's for this reason that every state restricts children from such consequential actions as voting, serving on juries, purchasing alcohol or marrying without parental consent.
The Supreme Court recognized the differences between teenagers and adults when it held a few years ago, in Roper vs. Simmons, that it was unconstitutional to impose the death penalty on defendants younger than 18. Locking up a youth for the rest of his life, with no hope for parole, is surely unconstitutional for the same reasons. The person you are at 13 or 17 is not the person you are at 30.
Everyone old enough to look back on his or her teenage years knows this.
Peer pressure is a huge part of youth behavior, whether one grows up in Washington, D.C., or Cody, Wyo. The guys will say, "Go get the gun. We'll pick up just enough money for tonight." And almost unthinkingly, you'll do it. There is simply no way to know at the time of sentencing whether a young person will turn out "good" or "bad." The only option is to bring him or her before a parole board — after some number of years — and give the person the chance to declare, "I'm a different person today" — and then prove it.
Parole boards can examine how youth offenders spent their time in prison. Did they read books or work in the library? Did they make furniture? Get a college degree? Those are critical questions for review.
We all know youths who have changed for the better. When I was a lawyer in Cody, the court sometimes appointed me to represent juvenile offenders, and parents who knew of my history often asked for help with their children. I once helped an 18-year-old who stole a car and drove it to Seattle. I later hired him as chief of staff for my Senate office.
I was lucky that the bullets I stole from a hardware store as a teenager and fired from my .22-caliber rifle never struck anyone. I was fortunate that the fires I set never hurt anyone. I heard my wake-up call and listened — and I went on to have many opportunities to serve my country and my community.
When a young person is sent "up the river," we need to remember that all rivers can change course.
at 9:19 AM
Sunday, October 25, 2009
GREELEY, Colo. — Health and law enforcement officials around the nation are scrambling to figure out how to regulate medical marijuana now that the federal government has decided it will no longer prosecute legal users or providers.
For years, since the first medical marijuana laws were passed in the mid-1990s, many local and state governments could be confident, if not complacent, knowing that marijuana would be kept in check because it remained illegal under federal law, and that hard-nosed federal prosecutors were not about to forget it.
But with the Justice Department’s announcement last week that it would not prosecute people who use marijuana for medical purposes in states where it is legal, local and state officials say they will now have to take on the job themselves.
In New Hampshire, for instance, where some state legislators are considering a medical marijuana law, there is concern that the state health department — already battered by budget cuts — could be hard-pressed to administer the system. In California, where there has been an explosion of medical marijuana suppliers, the authorities in Los Angeles and other jurisdictions are considering a requirement that all medical dispensaries operate as nonprofit organizations.
“The federal government says they’re not going to control it, so the only other option we have is to control it ourselves,” said Carrol Martin, a City Council member in this community north of Denver, where a ban on marijuana dispensaries was on the agenda at a Council meeting the day after the federal announcement.
At least five states, including New York and New Jersey, are considering laws to allow medical marijuana through legislation or voter referendums, in addition to the 13 states where such laws already exist. Even while that is happening, scores of local governments in California, Colorado and other states have gone the other way and imposed bans or moratoriums on distribution even though state law allows it.
Some health and legal experts say the Justice Department’s decision will promote the spread of marijuana for medical uses because local and state officials often take leadership cues from federal policy. That, the experts said, could lead to more liberal rules in states that already have medical marijuana and to more voters and legislators in other states becoming comfortable with the idea of allowing it. For elected officials who have feared looking soft on crime by backing any sort of legalized marijuana use, the new policy might provide support to reframe the issue.
at 9:58 PM
The Denver Post
If a convicted drunken driver violates probation by drinking, a dozen technologies can detect it.
An interlock device can prevent his car from starting. One ankle bracelet can detect alcohol coming through his skin. Another can make sure he's home, and now there are bracelets that do both.
A wrist bracelet can identify disturbances in sleep patterns that suggest alcohol or drug use. Probation officers can check for alcohol in an offender's breath, urine or saliva. Another chemical test hunts for a metabolite of alcohol that remains in his body for days. There's even a device to detect alcohol use by scanning the retina in his eye.
Meanwhile, the yearly toll of drunken-driving deaths remains tragically consistent.
In the United States, the percentage of passenger-vehicle drivers who were alcohol-impaired when they died in crashes has not improved since 2000, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data. Drunken driving is a factor in about one-third of all traffic deaths.
Experts cite several reasons. First, a tiny percentage of drunken drivers get caught. Second, the devices used to monitor drivers who do get caught may have lasting benefits only if coupled with a successful counseling program.
"All these technologies have a place. But you have to consider the human factor," said Marilyn Rosenberg, the director of Denver's electronic monitoring program. "You have to get to the bottom of the problem."
Those caught keep driving
Third, cheating is common.
In Colorado, where about 30,000 people get accused of drunken driving each year, a new law suspends the licenses of first offenders for nine months — unless they apply for an interlock from the Division of Motor Vehicles.
Stephen Hooper, who oversees that program, said about 1,500 drivers have taken that option so far this year, and their numbers are growing. But, he said, "there is evidence out there that as many as 70 to 75 percent of restrained drivers nationwide continue to drive while under restraint."
Jerry Duran was one.
In Jefferson County, he was charged with vehicular homicide, drunken driving and leaving the scene of a fatal crash after his friend James Sandoval died in a motorcycle accident. According to the arrest report, witnesses recounted a day of heavy drinking, followed by a two-motorcycle collision.
Duran turned himself in the day after the crash. This year a jury acquitted him of the most serious charges. Keith Goman, the case prosecutor, said, "Witnesses were talking about as many as 20 drinks over the course of the evening," but "there was no physical evidence of a collision."
Duran did plead guilty to driving without insurance and interlock evasion. He had evaded it simply by climbing onto a motorcycle instead. The judge imposed the maximum sentence: two years in jail.
Six months after Sandoval died, Duran was arrested in Denver for driving drunk, without a license. The judge sentenced him to 520 days, to be served simultaneously with his Jefferson County sentence, for his sixth DUI.
Sandoval's relatives said they also saw Duran keep driving, even to the courthouse.
When someone is ordered to drive only a car equipped with an interlock, "do they check?" asked Michelle Trujillo, Sandoval's youngest sister.
Two years after the crash, Sandoval's mother, Cecilia Vigil, struggles to discuss her son's death. "It's not right," she said, "the way the law is."
at 8:57 AM
CANON CITY - A proposed bill that will suggest the state sell Colorado State Penitentiary II because it cannot afford to staff it is getting reaction for local lawmakers.
Construction of the $208 million administrative-maximum-security prison is well underway at the East Canon Prison Complex, and it should be complete by next spring. Because the state cannot afford to staff it in the 2010-2011 fiscal year, Rep. Glenn Vaad, R-Weld County, will run a bill that proposes to sell the prison, perhaps to a private prison company.
"Well, I don't think that's a very good idea," said Sen. Ken Kester, R-Las Animas. "One, it is a high security prison and two, it is located in that complex with (six) other state prisons.
"I'm not in favor of mixing private and state prisons in short distances from each other. We have four private prisons in the state and that is probably all we need - they've been a big help to us when we run out of room."
Rep. Buffie McFadyen, D-Pueblo West, agreed. "I respect Rep. Vaad very much, but his proposal is very bad. There are inherent safety issues. We don't allow private prison contractors to run high-custody beds, and the entire complex is a secured area," McFadyen said.
When the prison is complete, it and neighboring Centennial Correctional Facility will run off the same control-room system as well as share a kitchen.
"I don't know of a private prison company that would be able to afford to purchase CSPII, let alone foot the very significant cost to run it," McFadyen said.
Kester said he favors holding onto CSPII.
"There is probably going to be a time we need it, and we need to have it available," Kester said.
"He (Vaad) is a very nice person, and I like him a lot, but he has the wrong idea this time," Kester said.
"I don't believe the bill will pass. I understand his intent, but public safety is the job of the state," McFadyen said.
at 8:54 AM
Wall Street Journal
For a land of the free, the U.S. has a lot of prisoners: Over the past 25 years, our inmate population has swelled to 2.38 million, from roughly 700,000. Our incarceration rate is the highest in the world, and our federal prisons are at 137% of their capacity.
This should be good news for the private prisons that absorb the spillover from congested federal and state penitentiaries. But, alas, the recession has ruffled the economics of even law and order. Cash-strapped states are mulling measures, such as quicker paroles and earlier releases.
These grim valuations overlook private prisons' steady profitability, their stranglehold on a tough-to-penetrate industry and the chasm between supply and demand. Barclays analyst Manav Patnaik pegs the annual demand for new prison beds at 35,000, and the supply at just 20,000 public and private beds.
Today, budget-constrained states can ill afford the time or capital to build new facilities. And many increasingly find it cheaper to outsource part of their prison system. That explains why half the new inmates over the past year were sent to private prisons, even though less than 9% of U.S. prison beds are privatized.
Any reform that shortens sentences will hurt private prisons. But bulls say that the stocks may have already factored in much of the threat.
Case in point: Colorado wants to cut its prison population by 26%, or 6,000 inmates, over the next two years. But Signal Hill analyst T.C. Robillard doubts the state "can classify a quarter of its inmates as low-risk or near the end of their sentences." Mr. Patnaik pegs the net impact at just 1,000 beds, noting that releases will be offset by new intake.
Besides, private prisons earn steadily recurring revenue, impervious to seasons or business cycles. Customers don't defect easily to competitors. And the facilities tend to be durable, low-maintenance and quite immune to changing architectural whims.
at 8:52 AM
The Denver Post
Real estate brokers say that Colorado's medical-marijuana law has sparked a land rush, as entrepreneurs lured by a growing number of licensed users search for properties for growing or selling pot.
In a down real estate market, landlords who might otherwise wait for more conventional tenants are snapping at the opportunity presented by medical-marijuana dispensaries, said Darrin Revious, a broker with Shames Makovsky Realty.
"I am working a couple of these deals right now," he said. "It is absolutely crazy how many of these deals are in the market. I can't believe it."
Since voters approved Amendment 20 in 2000 allowing the use of medical marijuana to treat eight specific conditions, the number of people legally allowed to buy the herb has steadily climbed. In 2007, 1,955 people held medical marijuana cards; the following year, there were 4,720 people on the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment's Medical Marijuana Registry. The number has grown to about 13,000, health department spokesman Mark Salley said.
On an average day, the department receives 400 requests for medical-marijuana cards, and some days applications are as high as 600, Salley said.
Revious said he receives at least one request per day from brokers representing people seeking property suitable for grow operations or dispensaries, where medical pot is sold to card-carrying patients. Over the past three or four months, he said, demand for the properties has soared.
"I need (5,000 square feet in) LoDo, or there about . . . retail," says one e-mail he received from a broker. "Wellness center — yes, medical marijuana. A group expanding out of California — a real one."
Warren Edson, an attorney who handles medical-marijuana cases and advises people trying to set up cannabis collectives and cooperatives, said he believes the rise in demand is related to the increasing number of patients approved to buy the drug.
at 7:55 AM
Saturday, October 24, 2009
The Denver Pos
For better or worse, our American Idiocracy has come to rely on athletes as national pedagogues. Michael Jordan educated the country about commitment and just doing it. A.C. Green lectured us about sexual caution. Serena Williams and John McEnroe taught us what sportsmanship is — and is not. And Charles Barkley outlined how society should define role models.
So when a single week like this one sees both the Justice Department back states' medical marijuana laws, and a Gallup poll show record-level support for pot legalization, we can look to two superjocks — Lance Armstrong and Michael Phelps — for the key lesson about our absurd drug policy.
This Tale of Two Supermen began in February when Phelps, the gold-medal swimmer, was plastered all over national newspapers in a photo that showed him hitting a marijuana bong. Though he was smoking in private, the image ignited a public firestorm. USA Swimming suspended Phelps, Kellogg pulled its endorsement deal and The Associated Press sensationalized the incident as a national decision about whether heroes should "be perfect or flawed."
The alleged imperfection was Phelps' decision to quietly consume a substance that "poses a much less serious public health problem than is currently posed by alcohol," as a redacted World Health Organization report admits. That's a finding confirmed by almost every objective science-based analysis, including a landmark University of California study in 2006 showing "no association at all" between marijuana use and cancer.
Alcohol, by contrast, causes roughly 1 in 30 of the world's cancer cases, according to the International Journal of Cancer. And a new report by Cancer Epidemiology journal shows that even beer, seemingly the least potent drink, may increase the odds of developing tumors.
Which brings us to Armstrong. This month, the Tour de France champion who beat cancer inked a contract to hawk Anheuser-Busch's alcohol. That's right, less than a year after Phelps was crucified for merely smoking weed in private, few noticed or protested the planet's most famous cancer survivor becoming the public face of a possible carcinogen.
"Apparently, it's perfectly acceptable for a world-class athlete to endorse a substance like alcohol that contributes to thousands of deaths each year, as well as hundreds of thousands of violent crimes and injuries," says Mason Tvert, a co-author of the new book "Marijuana Is Safer." "Yet a world-class athlete like Michael Phelps is ridiculed, punished and forced to apologize for marijuana, the use of which contributes to zero deaths, and has never been linked to violent or reckless behavior. Why the double standard?"
The data prove the answer isn't about health, and our culture proves it isn't about widespread allegiance to "Just Say No" abstinence. After all, whether through liquor commercials, wine magazines, beer-named stadiums or cocktail-drenched office parties, our society is constantly encouraging us to get our liquid high.
at 7:58 PM
Friday, October 23, 2009
Clear the air on marijuana rules
The burgeoning industry — created to help those with debilitating illnesses and pain — is mostly unregulated and that's becoming problematic.
The number of permits for medical marijuana use is spiraling far higher than many anticipated when voters passed a law allowing its use in 2000. The state health department told The Post's Lynn Bartels an average of 600 people apply for a permit every day.
Clearly, we're skeptical that all of the new permits are going to truly sick and deserving patients. (There seem to be a lot of 20-somethings with chronic back pain.)
However, the state lacks regulatory authority to deal with fraud — or much of anything else — under the current law.
To meet the demand of new users, businesses that sell medical pot are popping up like mushrooms. Yet the state's registry for the dispensaries, which was required under the 2000 law, doesn't license them, track them or regulate them. It even lacks a mechanism for dealing with complaints brought against a dispensary.
And if someone wants to start a dispensary? The registry has no information on how to establish or operate the facility.
Meanwhile, the rapid growth of medical pot users and businesses is clashing with local law enforcement. Though President Barack Obama this week instructed federal drug agents to respect state laws that govern medical marijuana, some Colorado sheriffs contend that illegal drug cartels are helping meet the increased demand for pot.
The result is that some cities are starting to pass laws to regulate use, and state Sen. Chris Romer says he will take up the issue with legislation during the next session of the General Assembly.
We note that a simple solution exists: Legalize marijuana for anyone 18 and older. Treat the drug like alcohol and regulate and tax its use.
at 9:06 AM
GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KJCT) -- The debate over how to save our state money just got a lot more controversial.
After first deciding to let some prisoners out early to save money, focus from some state leaders has shifted to next year. Some of those lawmakers are now looking at shortening sentences for certain crimes.
It's all because of the state of Colorado's prison population. The fact is that jails across the state are either at capacity or overcrowded. And housing those criminals is costing a pretty large chunk of change.
With this in mind, some state leaders have developed a plan that would change how long a person has to spend in prison for certain crimes. Some variations of this plan, though, would even shorten sentences for violent crimes like murder and sex offenses.
That's why the proposal is hitting a lot of friction.
Mesa County District Attorney Pete Hautzinger says he would support shortened terms for some drug offenses and other minor felonies, but would draw a line when it comes to the violent crimes.
He says less time needs to be focused on shortening prison terms, and more time needs to be spent on making sure these criminals don't have to be put in jail again.
"What we really need to be doing is being smarter with our dollars and finding better ways to equip criminals with the skills to no longer be criminals when they get out of prison," Hautzinger said.
Right now in Colorado, 50% of criminals commit another crime in their lifetimes. That puts Colorado among the worst re-offending states in the nation.
Hautzinger said shortening the prison terms of minor offenders is understandable, but that mandatory sentences for the murderers and sex offenders should not be changed.
The possibility, however, of shortening these terms is far from set in stone. No bill has even been presented to state leaders, but Hautzinger says he's certain it will be.
at 7:10 AM
A program in which 10 state prison inmates were released this month was accelerated by the state’s budget crisis, Colorado Department of Corrections head Ari Zavaras said Thursday.
It also was the result of an extended effort to better and more effectively handle the state’s prison population, Zavaras told about 40 people in a forum on “Prison Spending, Sentencing and the Colorado Budget,” sponsored by Club 20, the Golden-based Independence Institute and the Pew Center on the States. The event was at Two Rivers Convention Center.
The accelerated transition-from-prison program, or the so-called “early release program,” was criticized as a precursor to a crime wave by ex-convicts, Zavaras said.
“Personally, I just don’t see it,” he said. “This is a very well-thought-out program.”
The program is also in the vanguard of efforts by state and local officials to better deal with the state’s prison population.
Zavaras and several other officials, such as Pete Weir, the executive director of the Department of Public Safety, took pains to point out that the accelerated transition program was not the result of “touchy-feely” approaches to criminal behavior.
Zavaras and Weir are both former police officers, and Zavaras twice has headed the Department of Corrections, while Weir has served as a prosecutor and judge dealing with violent crime.
“You can look at me and tell that I’m not touchy-feely,” Zavaras said.
A strident approach to treating criminals in Colorado, however, hasn’t been a powerful deterrent to crime, panelists said. Colorado’s 50 percent recidivism rate is among the nation’s highest, Zavaras said.
The Colorado Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice is looking to recommend steps the Legislature can take to reduce that number. Among them this year will be some reforms to drunken-driving laws, more consistent sentencing and changes to parole-eligibility requirements.
One program that has avoided the budget ax is the juvenile diversion program, Mesa County District Attorney Pete Hautzinger said, noting similar programs have been among the first things cut to meet budget requirements.
Preserving programs aimed at reducing expensive prison populations to save tax money and ultimately prevent victimization is difficult enough, said state Sen. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora.
Changes to the way prisoners are handled, Zavaras said, won’t affect violent sociopaths who belong behind bars but do hold promise for inmates who are beset with drug, mental-health or similar problems but can be returned to society with proper care.
Among those steps are making sure former inmates have housing, employment and support especially at the beginning of their transition to life outside the prisons, panelists said.
at 7:01 AM
Thursday, October 22, 2009
The Denver Post
Saying the will of the voters isn't being followed, state Sen. Chris Romer plans to introduce a medical-marijuana bill next year clarifying regulations involving pot-using patients.
The Denver Democrat said he is alarmed on several fronts, from the number of Coloradans applying for a medical-marijuana card to how many pot dispensaries are popping up in the state.
"I work out at a health club on Colfax, and the owner told me two gentlemen from California walked in off the street and offered him $700,000 in cash for his building," Romer said Wednesday. "They were going to open a medical-marijuana dispensary."
Romer said that when voters approved Amendment 20 in 2000, they thought they were authorizing medical marijuana to help people suffering from cancer and multiple sclerosis, not allowing anyone complaining of aches or pains to get a card or establishing Colorado as a pot-growing state.
The state health department is receiving an average of 600 requests a day for medical-marijuana cards, spokesman Mark Salley said.
By one estimate, there are about 100 dispensaries in the state.
Many cities and towns are studying regulations to limit dispensaries, while others have passed outright bans.
Amendment 20 allows patients who get a recommendation from a doctor and who register with the state to use medical marijuana.
"I voted for the law. I believe in the law," Romer said. "But I believe in properly implementing the law."
He said he plans to hold meetings soon with all parties — including law enforcement, caregivers and patients — to get their input on new regulations for how marijuana is grown and distributed.
"We're excited that Sen. Romer wants to clarify things, and we hope he works with the medical cannabis community to draft something we can all agree on," said Laura Kriho, spokeswoman for the Cannabis Therapy Institute in Boulder.
at 6:49 AM
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Among Governor Bill Ritter's hits and misses, few actions have drawn as much criticism as his proposal to release thousands of inmates months earlier than originally planned, thereby cutting millions of dollars from the state's overstressed budget.
The announcement sent convulsions of anxiety through Colorado's crime-control industry. Police chiefs braced for waves of thugs hitting the streets. A criminologist predicted a sharp spike in the crime rate, including an upswing in "heinous" crimes. Private prison contractors groused about lost business and possible layoffs. Last month a Denver Post article shrieked that the governor's early-release list included a cop-killer — who was within a few weeks of mandatory release, anyway. And last week, Republican lawmakers demanded that Ritter end the "disastrous" program, even though it had scarcely begun.
Actually, Ritter's plan barely qualifies as "early release" at all. Only a small percentage of state inmates receive discretionary parole anymore. The vast majority serve out their sentences right up to their mandatory release date, then have a mandatory period of parole to complete on top of that. Although the Colorado Department of Corrections routinely deducts "earned time" of a few days each month, violent offenders are required to serve at least 75 percent of their original sentence.
Ritter's plan excludes sex offenders, targets inmates who are already six months or less from getting out, and would still require screening by the Colorado Board of Parole, which can — and often does — deny early release to violent offenders. The plan is a candle lit under a glacier, a slight nudge to a massive, overstuffed prison system that's draining an ever-increasing share of state resources while lawmakers dawdle over sentencing reform proposals.
The alarm and outrage that greeted even this modest cost-cutting measure is a good indication of what the governor is up against as he tries to get a handle on the DOC's $700 million-a-year budget, which has swelled at an average rate of 10 percent a year for the past two decades. No politician can afford to appear soft on crime — not even a former prosecutor who, in his gubernatorial campaign, vowed to control soaring prison costs by launching new programs that would lower recidivism.
Ironically, the governor has a powerful weapon in his arsenal when it comes to getting people out of prison early, one that requires no legislative approval. Properly applied, it can save money, address inequities in the justice system and transform the sentencing reform debate. But it's politically risky, and Ritter has declined to use it to any real effect in his first three years in office.
It's called clemency. The state constitution gives the governor "the power to grant reprieves, commutations and pardons" for all crimes except treason. It's a tool that Ritter's predecessors have wielded, sometimes boldly, to free particular prisoners or shorten their sentences, to correct injustices or reward people who have turned their lives around while incarcerated, or to wipe the slate clean years after youthful bad behavior. Clemency used to be a routine part of being Colorado's governor, like cutting ribbons and wearing a cowboy hat, but in recent decades the option has been exercised less and less.
at 2:15 PM
Ethan Nadelmann was sitting in a small plane flying low over the remote, hilly farm country of Mendocino County, north of San Francisco, surveying small clusters of marijuana plants scattered among the woods and fields. "You'll see eight plants in somebody's backyard," Nadelmann says. "Or you'll see six or 12 or 22 out in a field. You see greenhouses in the middle of nowhere. You see tarps."
You don't see rolling fields of weed, just lots and lots of small clusters—and they're all over the place. Indeed, in California marijuana is a booming business. Some reckon the state's annual harvest is worth $14 billion—more than agriculture and wine combined. The local police know who's growing the stuff but can't or won't stamp it out because, frankly, the local economy depends on it. "It's big enough and legitimate enough that trying to wipe it out doesn't make sense—not from a law-enforcement perspective or a political perspective, and certainly not from an economic perspective," says Nadelmann.
The answer? Regulate it and tax it, he says. As Nadelmann, director of the New York-based Drug Policy Alliance Network, sees it, the entire "war on drugs" is a colossal failure, a waste of time and money that has caused far more harm than drugs themselves.
at 9:03 AM
Grand Junction Sentinel
State and local officials will gather Thursday in Grand Junction to discuss the question of how many people the state can afford to incarcerate.
The panel discussion sponsored by Western Slope promotional group Club 20 and Colorado think tank Independence Institute will take up “Prison spending, sentencing and the Colorado budget: How many more prison beds can we afford?”
Panelists will include Mesa County District Attorney Pete Hautzinger; Mesa County Sheriff Stan Hilkey; Ari Zevaras, director of the state Department of Corrections; Public Safety Director Pete Weir; state Sen. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora; and Steve Reynolds, chairman of the 9th Judicial District Community Corrections Board.
The discussion will take place as the state is releasing some felons early from the Department of Corrections in a cost-saving measure.
Interested people are asked to RSVP to Angeline Roles at Club 20 by calling 242-3264 or e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
The panel will be from 4 to 6:30 p.m. at Two Rivers Convention Center, and refreshments will be served.
at 7:13 AM
The Denver Post
Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck has decided to reopen a criminal investigation into whether Fort Collins police Detective Jim Broderick lied about his role in the 1989 surveillance of Tim Masters.
Citing new "information" emerging in proceedings tied to Masters' civil-rights lawsuit against Broderick and the prosecutors behind Masters' murder conviction, Buck filed a motion in Larimer County District Court on Tuesday asking the chief judge to reappoint him as special prosecutor to investigate possible perjury.
Last year, Buck cleared Broderick of allegations that he lied when testifying in Masters' 1998 trial that he had no involvement in investigating Masters between mid-1987 and 1992 for Peggy Hettrick's murder.
But in recent months, Broderick has disclosed e-mails and notes to Masters' civil attorney, David Lane, showing he planned a 1989 stakeout operation of Masters, then 17 years old, coordinating radio communications and observation spots around his south Fort Collins home, among other details.
In his court filing, Buck said he didn't have access to that documentation during his initial inquiry, prompting his decision to re-examine whether a crime was committed.
"The interests of justice would best be served by the appointment of a special prosecutor to conduct this additional investigation," the motion states.
at 7:11 AM
The Denver Post
Demand for medical marijuana in Colorado has grown so fast in the past few months that it has outstripped the production of legal "grow" operations and is now probably being supplied by international drug cartels, say some local sheriffs and agents from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
And as dispensaries proliferate throughout the state, police and lawyers say they are worried about the peripheral crime rising around the shops intended to function as pharmacies, selling medical marijuana prescribed to people who suffer one of eight conditions, ranging from chronic pain to glaucoma.
"Dispensaries are popping up like mushrooms," said DEA special agent-in-charge Jeffrey Sweetin. "Now we have thousands of 20- to 25-year-olds carrying cards. And the cartels are getting rich off this law."
Last summer, the Colorado Board of Health declined to limit the number of patients that medical marijuana dispensaries could service.
The result, health department spokesman Mark Salley said, was a boom in the number of people who received cards allowing them to purchase medical pot. There are now 13,000 people in possession of such cards.
Colorado, which approved medical marijuana in 2000, is one of 14 states that permit it.
The number of Colorado dispensaries is not tracked by the state health department or any other agency.
Legal grow operations linked to dispensaries are limited to six cannabis plants each.
By contrast, most of the street pot comes from big, outdoor grows, such as the three operations — within a 5-mile radius of Chatfield Reservoir — busted by DEA officials last summer. Sweetin said one grow had 14,000 plants that averaged 5 to 6 feet tall.
at 7:07 AM
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
By KAREN VIGIL A lockdown was continuing Monday night at Colorado Territorial Correctional Facility following a morning assault at the medium-security prison just west of Canon City.
THE PUEBLO CHIEFTAIN
The incident occurred during breakfast, said Katherine Sanguinetti, Colorado Department of Corrections director of public affairs.
"Two offenders assaulted two staff and a third staff was assaulted coming to the aid of the other two," said Sanguinetti. She did not release the genders or other identification of employees involved, citing DOC policy.
Sanguinetti said one DOC employee sought medical attention earlier in the day, but was not sure if the injuries resulted in hospitalization. No hospitalizations or fatalities were reported immediately following the incident.
Asked what led to the assaults, Sanguinetti said only that the incident remains under investigation. No weapons, however, were involved, she said. The lockdown will continue at least through today.
CTCF houses 566 medium security inmates as well as 120 in transition to other prison facilities, according to the state prison Web site. It also hosts an infirmary, a hospice and a variety of DOC business offices.
at 7:20 AM
The Denver Post
Colorado Attorney General John Suthers says that if an Obama administration plan not to arrest medical-marijuana users and suppliers is going to work, state lawmakers need to regulate the industry.
But drawing up rules for how medical marijuana is grown and distributed likely will not be a top priority when the legislature reconvenes in January.
"The people of Colorado have clearly spoken on this issue and have decided that medicinal uses of marijuana are appropriate and legal in Colorado," said House Speaker Terrance Carroll, D-Denver. "When the legislature reconvenes in January, I will be asking the House to keep our focus on bolstering the economy, creating jobs and balancing the budget."
Over the weekend, the U.S. Department of Justice issued an advisory to prosecutors not to pursue cases against medical-marijuana users and suppliers who follow state laws.
"The U.S. attorney general's new medical-marijuana policy relies on the faulty assumption that Colorado has clearly defined laws on medical marijuana. In fact, it does not," Suthers said in his statement.
Colorado is one of 14 states that allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes.
Currently there is no state regulation on dispensaries, Mark Salley spokesman for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said.
Instead, Colorado's towns and cities must decide the rules for how and where dispensaries and growing operations function within their boundaries.
Since June 2001, about 13,000 people have applied for medical-marijuana cards, according to the health department. But the number of dispensaries in the state is not known.
Robert Corry, an attorney who specializes in medical-marijuana cases, said regulation would cripple a new industry that provides people with medicine. "Really, I think that it is a solution in search of a problem."
Suthers said there has been an increase in the number of dispensaries and patients since federal regulations eased earlier this year.
This increase is more likely a result of more doctors becoming comfortable prescribing the drug and more patients exploring its benefits, Corry said.
Larry Hill, owner of the Apothecary dispensary in Longmont, said eliminating the gray areas around dispensaries is important, but he also said state regulation is not a good solution.
He said developing general standards for growers and dispensaries would benefit the state more than monitoring patients and number of places medical marijuana is sold.
It is more important to monitor the quality of the cannabis and care of the patients, he said.
"Our top priority is providing a safe place for our patients to buy their medicine," Hill said.
at 7:13 AM
Monday, October 19, 2009
Scott "Fear Factor" McInnis is very, very concerned about your safety
But nobody has stomped on the issue with more enthusiasm than gubernatorial opponent Scott McInnis. In the latest in a series of blasts denouncing the early release plan, Sheriff Scotty accuses the guv of fostering "a clear threat to public safety."
Bar the door and pass the ammo, son. The streets just ain't safe no more.
It's true that Ritter's plan is flawed. He assured folks he wouldn't be letting killers and sex offenders out early, and the Post's Kirk Mitchell has reported that several names on the early release list would suggest otherwise. But in the politically motivated hysteria surrounding the plan, it's easy to lose sight of the fact that these are people who are getting out of the system anyway. In some cases, they're only coming out a few days or a couple of weeks earlier, and it's hard to make a crime wave out of that.
In fact, Ritter's plan hardly qualifies as "early" release. The state used to routinely reward prisoners who demonstrated good behavior with discretionary parole, but only a small percentage of inmates get that any more. The vast majority serve out their sentences right up to their mandatory release date, then have a mandatory period of parole to complete on top of that. A good hunk of them end up back inside for parole failures, a dismal statistic explored at length in my 2006 feature "Over and Over Again."
Ritter's plan targets offenders who are within six months of mandatory release. Shaving a few weeks off their sentences is unlikely to have a dramatic impact on the crime rate -- unless you release thousands at once. That's not happening. The Colorado Parole Board routinely turns down violent offenders for early release. McInnis claims that "the Governor is overriding the Parole Board," but he presents no evidence that's happening. Actually, the plan is being criticized in part because the board is denying so many early releases it's doubtful that much in the way of savings will be realized.
So what we're left with is a lot of fear-mongering about a timid plan. And the more promising part of the budget-cutting, the part that involves letting parolees who are doing well complete their parole early, gets no mention at all. That's a shame, because there's a case to be made for cost savings by shortening the lengthy mandatory parole period for those who have demonstrated that they can function well in the community. Among other benefits, reducing the length of the parole period reduces the chance that someone who is otherwise doing well will commit a technical violation, such as missing a curfew, that could land them back in prison.
One of the recent beneficiaries of the parole termination plan is Casey Holden, the subject of my blog series "I Shall Be Released." After a decade spent mostly behind bars, including four years in lockdown, Holden got out of prison in early 2007 with few prospects. But he refused to become a statistic. He found a crummy job, then a better one. He paid restitution, stayed clean, fulfilled the other conditions of his parole, started a family. As a reward, his parole has ended three months earlier than scheduled.
That's good for him -- and good for the taxpayer. Now his former parole officer can devote more attention to those hardcore felons who are getting out on parole a few days earlier than they would otherwise.
at 4:17 PM
The Denver Post
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration will not seek to arrest medical marijuana users and suppliers as long as they conform to state laws, under policy guidelines to be sent to federal prosecutors today.
Two Justice Department officials described the policy, saying prosecutors will be told that it is not a good use of their time to arrest people who use or provide medical marijuana in strict compliance with state laws. The policy is a significant departure from the Bush administration, which insisted it would continue to enforce federal anti-pot laws regardless of state codes.
Fourteen states, including Colorado, allow some use of marijuana for medical purposes. A memo spelling out the policy is expected to be sent today to federal prosecutors in those states and also to top officials at the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration. The Associated Press
at 7:12 AM
Sunday, October 18, 2009
Gina Tatum spends her days in a compound surrounded by electrified fence in the sun-baked heart of the Central Valley, hoping to change her life.
She will soon turn 50, and after two decades in and out of prison, she says she is tired of victimizing others, tired of stealing, tired of doing drugs.
"I can't afford any more years up here -- I've lost too many," said Tatum, who is serving a four-year stint for forgery at the Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla. "I'm trying to learn things to change my thinking, change everything about me, so I can go home. It's so easy to get caught up here and never leave. I don't want to die in prison."
But because of cuts in the state budget, Tatum and thousands of other inmates and parolees in California are about to lose access to many of the programs the prison system has offered to help them turn their lives around.
Officials plan to chop $250 million a year from rehabilitation services, more than 40% of what the state now devotes to them and a quarter of the $1 billion it is slicing from its prison system.
The cuts occur four years after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger persuaded lawmakers to change the name of the Youth and Adult Correctional Agency to the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
"We don't want to just put the name on it," he said in 2007, proposing to expand rehabilitation services for prisoners. "We have to heal them. We have to get them ready to go out so they can get a job, connect with society and never commit a crime again."
at 9:00 PM
OXSACKIE, N.Y. — Allen Jacobs lived hard for his 50 years, and when his liver finally shut down he faced the kind of death he did not want. On a recent afternoon Mr. Jacobs lay in a hospital bed staring blankly at the ceiling, his eyes sunk in his skull, his skin lusterless. A volunteer hospice worker, Wensley Roberts, ran a wet sponge over Mr. Jacobs’s dry lips, encouraging him to drink.
“Come on, Mr. Jacobs,” he said.
Mr. Roberts is one of a dozen inmates at the Coxsackie Correctional Facility who volunteer to sit with fellow prisoners in the last six months of their lives. More than 3,000 prisoners a year die of natural causes in correctional facilities.
Mr. Roberts recalled a day when Mr. Jacobs, then more coherent, had started crying. Mr. Roberts held his patient and tried to console him. Then their experience took a turn unique to their setting, the medical ward of a maximum security prison. Mr. Roberts said he told Mr. Jacobs to “man up.”
Mr. Jacobs, serving two to four years for passing forged checks, cursed at him, telling him, “‘I don’t want to die in jail. Do you want to die in jail?’ ”
“I said no,” said Mr. Roberts, who is serving eight years for robbery. “He said, ‘Then stop telling me to man up,’ and he started crying. And then he said that I’m his family.”
American prisons are home to a growing geriatric population, with one-third of all inmates expected to be over 50 by next year. As courts have handed down longer sentences and tightened parole, about 75 prisons have started hospice programs, half of them using inmate volunteers, according to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. Susan Atkins, a follower of Charles Manson, died last month in hospice at the Central California Women’s Facility at Chowchilla after being denied compassionate release.
at 8:55 PM
The New York Times
On any given day, about one in every 10 young male high school dropouts is in jail or juvenile detention, compared with one in 35 young male high school graduates, according to a new study of the effects of dropping out of school in an America where demand for low-skill workers is plunging.
Researchers at Northeastern University used census and other government data to carry out the study, which tracks the employment, workplace, parenting and criminal justice experiences of young high school dropouts.
“We’re trying to show what it means to be a dropout in the 21st century United States,” said Andrew Sum, director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern, who headed a team of researchers that prepared the report. “It’s one of the country’s costliest problems. The unemployment, the incarceration rates — it’s scary.”
A coalition of civil rights and public education advocacy groups and a network of alternative schools in Chicago commissioned the report as part of a push for new educational opportunities for the nation’s 6.2 million high school dropouts.
“The dropout rate is driving the nation’s increasing prison population, and it’s a drag on America’s economic competitiveness,” said Marc H. Morial, the former New Orleans mayor who is president of the National Urban League, one of the groups in the coalition that commissioned the report. “This report makes it clear that every American pays a cost when a young person leaves school without a diploma.”
at 8:50 PM
Saturday, October 17, 2009
PAWTUCKET, R.I. — If the state weren't so pressed for cash, Joshua Gomes might still be behind bars. Instead, he's working temp jobs — at a construction site one week, a recycling plant another — and talks about going to college, teaching or joining the military.
The former cocaine addict and dealer had to prepare for his future sooner than expected: He was released from prison in June after serving a little more than half his two-year sentence, benefiting from a state law that allows certain prisoners to get out early if they commit to rehabilitation programs behind bars.
States under pressure to erase budget deficits and ease prison overcrowding are allowing inmates to shave greater amounts of time off their sentences through good behavior and participation in classes such as job training and substance abuse treatment.
Some victims' advocates and law enforcement professionals worry convicts released early will continue committing crimes, and they question whether rehabilitative programs offered behind bars can produce lasting improvements. But supporters say the law changes not only cut costs but also can motivate inmates — the overwhelming majority of whom eventually will be released — to acquire life skills to keep them from committing new crimes.
"I would rather have an inmate released three weeks earlier, knowing that he had dealt with his substance abuse addictions, than waiting the three weeks and releasing him untreated," Rhode Island corrections director A.T. Wall said.
Among new laws passed this year: Colorado now permits low-risk inmates 12 days per month of earned time instead of 10; Mississippi lifted a 180-day cap on earned time; and Oregon raised the amount of time inmates can deduct from their sentences for good behavior from 20 percent to 30 percent.
at 7:43 AM
Friday, October 16, 2009
The Denver Post
David O. Adams wants to go home to die.
Stricken with terminal brain cancer, Adams has only a few weeks to live.
"I want to die in the companionship of people who care for me," Adams said. "I don't want to die in that cell up there in the infirmary."
Adams, 47, who shot and wounded a man in 1998, is serving 24 years in prison. He asked to be paroled at a hearing last month at the Denver Reception and Diagnostic Center.
The Colorado Parole Board denied his release.
Parole Board chairman David Michaud said he can't legally disclose why Adams was not granted parole, just that he did not meet all the criteria.
"The decision was not made for lack of compassion," he said.
Adams also is not eligible for "special-needs parole," offered to terminally ill and elderly offenders, because he committed a violent crime.
Michaud said he moved Adams' parole hearing up from April 2010 at the request of Adams' uncle.
Parole is denied for a variety of reasons, including victim input, the inmate's behavior in prison and their commitment to sobriety, Michaud said.
Hearing officers also try to determine if the prisoner has completed anger-management and drug-rehab programs, prior criminal history and if there is adequate family support upon release, Michaud said.
Recently, the issue of compassionate release for violent offenders has raised questions about what is an appropriate balance between public safety and mercy.
In California, Charles Manson family member Susan Atkins — who stabbed pregnant actress Sharon Tate to death in August 1969 — was denied parole and compassionate release as she lay on a prison hospital gurney. She died Sept. 24, 22 days after her parole hearing.
at 5:48 PM
Thursday, October 15, 2009
The Denver Post
"All hell is going to break loose."
That's a judge's take on District Attorney Carol Chambers' office withholding bombshell evidence in a death-penalty case.
It's not often you hear a judge haul off like 15th District Chief Judge Stanley Brinkley did about the Chambers team's concealing key facts while prosecuting David Bueno for the murder of a fellow inmate at the Limon Correctional Facility.
Bueno's defense centered on the theory that white supremacists at the prison killed Jeffrey Heird and blamed the murder on three Latino inmates, including Bueno and co-defendant Alejandro Perez.
Heird was labeled a rat for not warning fellow white inmates about a prison drug bust.
As I wrote a few weeks ago, prosecutors withheld the fact that minutes after finding Heird's body in 2004, a prison nurse discovered a letter written by the Aryan Nation threatening to "exterminate" white inmates who "refuse to accept their proud race." DAs also failed to disclose that two days after Heird's death, another white inmate was found in the same living unit with blunt chest trauma. David Hollenbeck was named as a target in the Aryan Nation letter. He died three days later.
"We have been messing around with this case, playing hide-and-go- seek," Brinkley chastised, court documents show. "It's a travesty."
I don't know David Bueno, 45, whom a jury convicted and sentenced to life in prison rather than death. His guilt or innocence isn't the point.
The point is that DAs sat on more than half of the evidence in his case, including the two pages that would have been most helpful for his defense.
And that Chambers' office took 17 months after Bueno's conviction to hand over the documents — only after Brinkley ordered it to do so as he presides over Perez's case.
at 7:03 AM
The Denver Post
A man accused three times of sex offenses, a drunken driver convicted of vehicular homicide and a third man nabbed 46 times for alleged crimes including assault are all among the first 10 Colorado inmates granted early prison releases.
And they were considered the best of the bunch.
The 10 whose sentences were cut by weeks or months by the Colorado Parole Board were among a smaller-than-expected number the board considered safe to let go. And the volume and diversity of the 10 inmates' prior offenses shows how difficult it will continue to be for the state to choose among thousands of convicted criminals for early release.
The early-release initiative, announced Aug. 18, is part of a plan to save $19 million toward
Corrections officials initially estimated that the parole board would deny 20 percent of the early-release cases, leaving about 6,400 who could be released up to six months early.
Ritter administration officials referred questions about the releases to Parole Board chairman David Michaud , who said the process of finding offenders deserving of early release has proven much more difficult than anticipated.
80 percent deemed too risky
He said the board is rejecting about 80 percent of eligible offenders for early release, including 149 sex offenders whose cases were brought before the board.
This means the state won't realize the anticipated savings.
"I've been a cop since 1963 and I've spoken to hundreds of victims. I'm not going to let someone out early if I don't think it's safe," said Michaud, who was Denver's police chief for six years. "I don't care how much money they save or don't save."
He said Ritter has told him there is no quota and he wouldn't object to the parole board not releasing any offenders if they aren't deemed safe.
If the Parole Board continues to reject the bulk of inmates for early release, the savings will be just a fraction of the $19 million projected.
The Parole Board bases release decisions on two risk-assessment scales. The board reviews victim input, institutional behavior, commitment to sobriety, participation in programming, family support, job opportunities and prior criminal records, Michaud said.
In response to an open-records request, the state released the names of the first 10 this week.
Jose Madrigal, 27, convicted of vehicular homicide in 1999, was released the first day that early releases were granted on Sept. 22. It was 26 days before his mandatory release date. Madrigal had trouble following rules in prison.
In 2007, he was convicted of rioting in prison and got another two years tacked on to his sentence.
Michaud said that Madrigal drove drunk, rolled a van and killed a passenger, but he didn't intentionally kill someone. The board will not give early releases to inmates guilty of first- or second-degree murder, he said.
Although Benny Joe Rael, 51, was serving a nonviolent theft conviction when he was released 16 days early — also on Sept. 22 — he had been arrested previously three times for sex offenses and was convicted in one child sex-assault case in 1982, Colorado Bureau of Investigation records say.
at 6:40 AM
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
A private prison operator will pay $1.3 million to settle complaints from 21 female employees who claimed they suffered harassment from male supervisors and colleagues ranging from sexually explicit comments to rape.
A female officer complained a male co-worker sexually harassed her and that after she complained, she was reassigned to an isolated location of the medium-security Crowley County Correctional Facility where she was raped by the man she complained about, according to the federal lawsuit.
The suit, filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, also accused a chief of security at the prison of forcing a female correctional officer to have sex with him so she could keep her job.
Female employees also accused their male counterparts of openly viewing pornography and making demeaning sexual jokes about them.
The EEOC sued Corrections Corporation of America and Dominion Correctional Services on behalf of the female employees in 2006. Although a settlement was reached, the defendants did not admit liability. Dominion is no longer operating prisons and the company could not be reached for comment.
"CCA settled the claim to avoid the time, expense, and uncertainties of continued litigation and trial," said a statement issued by that company.
CCA assumed control of the prison in January 2003 from Dominion and claims that a "substantial number" of the more serious allegations occurred under Dominion's operation. "Of the 21 individuals alleging discriminatory conduct, eight were never CCA employees, but were employed solely by Dominion," the statement said. "Moreover, although seven of the 21 individuals were employed by both CCA and Dominion, the majority of their claims also related to events that allegedly occurred before CCA began operating the facility."
EEOC attorney Rita Byrnes Kittle said some of the employees accused of sexual harassment over the years have resigned, but some are still working at the prison. Guadalupe Gonzales, the 39-year-old former employee accused of rape in 2002, was convicted in 2005 of felony sexual assault. He was sentenced to four years of probation and is registered as a sex offender.
As part of the settlement agreement, Dominion cannot operate a prison in Colorado for three years. CCA must have sexual harassment training conducted by an outside expert for the next three years and have a toll-free number available for employees to call to report sexual harassment.
at 8:41 AM
Monday, October 12, 2009
STEVEN K. PAULSON, Associated Press Writer
DENVER (AP) ― State Rep. Glenn Vaad said he was stunned when he learned that the Colorado Department of Corrections planned to leave a new, $208 million maximum-security prison empty because of the state's budget crisis.
"That's unconscionable in my mind. We invested $208 million of the taxpayers' money and because of the economic downturn, we can't afford to open it," he said. "Let's sell it."
Vaad, R-Mead, said the state would have to change state law to allow a private prison to buy or lease the prison because state law bars private companies from housing maximum security prisoners. If lawmakers reject that option, Vaad said it should be sold off and run privately as a medium security prison allowed under current law.
Although the state is currently in a budget crisis and opening the prison has been put on hold, Sen. Moe Keller, who heads the Legislature's Joint Budget Committee, state attorney general John Suthers and corrections director Ari Zavaras have all come out against Vaad's plan, saying it's too dangerous.
"I would not approve of allowing the private sector to operate maximum security prisons in the state of Colorado," said Suthers, a Republican. "If you look around the country, placing maximum security detention into private hands has not gone well."
Keller, a Democrat from Wheat Ridge, said the state has already had serious problems with medium security private prisons and allowing the private operation of a maximum security prison is out of the question.
"I'm vehemently opposed to selling a maximum security prison to a private company," Keller said.
However, Keller said she might be open to selling the building to a private company if some other use can be found.
at 12:15 PM
Saturday, October 10, 2009
The National Post
Anyone with an interest in the debate over medical marijuana might want to keep an eye on California and Colorado, where prospects for the pot business have never been brighter. It’s not far-fetched to suggest a combination of financial need and the Obama administration’s benign neglect could make California the first state to legalize recreational use of marijuana next year.
Without making a big deal of it, the White House has made life a lot easier for pot enthusiasts. Although 13 states have approved the use of marijuana for medical purposes, it remains a crime under federal law, which means you may be free under state law to open a dispensary and start offering various types of pot, but can’t be sure a federal narcotics team won’t bust in and drag you off to jail anyway. If that happens, the U.S. Federal Court won’t let you use the state law in your defence.
The Bush administration, being staunchly anti-drug, raided regularly and often. But Barack Obama, during his campaign for the presidency, promised to lay off on the heavy-handed approach, and soon after taking office made good on his word. Attorney General Eric Holder said in February Washington would suspend the raids, and concentrate instead on dealers who violate both federal and state law.
at 6:29 AM
Colorado Springs Gazette
A former state prisons official who retired under a cloud in 2006 pleaded guilty in Fremont County this week to harassing his estranged wife and persuading a state employee to run a restricted background check on her boyfriend.
Nolin Lee Renfrow — who began his 27-year career as a prison guard and rose to become director of prisons for the state Department of Corrections — is now banned from entering a 12-county swath of central Colorado.
The unusual restriction was part of plea agreement reached Monday in a Cañon City courtroom that allowed Renfrow to avoid a prison sentence.
The case involved a complaint from Renfrow’s then-wife, who told police that Renfrow repeatedly violated a restraining order she filed Aug. 11, 2008, after an earlier incident in which he allegedly he kicked down her front door during a quarrel over their ongoing divorce.
Prosecutors alleged that Renfrow or an accomplice sneaked into her yard — from which Renfrow had been banned — and took down the license plate of her boyfriend’s pickup parked next to her house.
On Jan. 21, Renfrow persuaded a prison security worker to run the plate through a state investigative database maintained by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation and restricted to law enforcement agencies.
At the time, the retired prisons boss was working with Jacobs Engineering Group Inc., which won a state contract to help build a prison complex in Cañon City. Renfrow told the security officer that the license plate was from a vehicle that had been abandoned at the construction site.
He ended up calling the boyfriend’s employers and telling them about the man’s relationship with his estranged wife.
Renfrow pleaded guilty to three counts of violating a protection order and one count of false reporting, all misdemeanors. Prosecutors agreed to dismiss a felony count of stalking and five felony counts of intimidating a victim.
at 6:23 AM
Friday, October 09, 2009
RIVERDALE, Georgia (CNN) -- In his darkest moment, Kenneth Brown lost it all. His wife and kids, the housebroken dog, the vacation home on Cape Cod all vanished when he was sent to prison for an arson in 1996.
Trapped in his gloomy cell and serving a 20-year sentence that felt like an eternity, Brown, then 49, found himself stretched out on the floor. He was silent. His eyes were shut. His body did not move.
Brown, a man raised as a Baptist and taught to praise the Lord and fear the devil, was meditating.
"I try to focus on the space between two thoughts, because it prevents me from getting lost," said Brown, who discovered meditation, yoga and Buddhist teachings three months into his sentence.
"This helped me stay on track and get me through prison," he said.
Eastern religions encompassing meditation techniques have captivated hippies, 20-somethings and celebrities like actor Richard Gere. But since the 1960s, the art of meditation also has found a growing number of unlikely followers behind prison bars.
The inmates say meditation -- an ancient practice that develops mental awareness and fosters relaxation -- is teaching them how to cope in prison.
"Mostly, the people in Buddhist community are going into the prisons, providing programs, and word of mouth gets from one inmate to another," explained Gary Friedman, communications chairman for the American Correctional Chaplains Association. "It's a break from all the hustle and noise of the prison environment."
There is no group tracking the number of inmates converting to Buddhism or engaging in meditation practices. But programs and workshops educating inmates about meditation and yoga are sprouting up across the country.
Meditation can help the convicts find calmness in a prison culture ripe with violence and chaos. The practice provides them a chance to reflect on their crimes, wrestle through feelings of guilt and transform themselves during their rehabilitative journey, Buddhist experts say.
In the past five years, books like the "Prison Chaplaincy Guidelines for Zen Buddhism" and "Razor-Wire Dharma: A Buddhist Life in Prison" have emerged.
"This is transformative justice, as opposed to punitive," said Fleet Maull, founder of the Prison Dharma Network, one of the largest support networks helping inmates learn meditation and Buddhist teachings.
Since its inception in 1989, Prison Dharma Network has grown from one person -- Maull -- teaching Buddhist principles to more than 75 member organizations corresponding with 2,500 individuals, many of them inmates.
For the past seven years, Maull's group has taught a weekly meditation class in Boulder County Jail in Colorado.
Some inmates follow Zen Buddhism, a practice that originated in China, and meet weekly to focus their minds. Others practice Vipassana, a Buddhist practice founded in India, which consists of completing hundreds of hours of meditation in a short period of time.
Buddhism has gained momentum in the United States over the past 25 years, becoming the third most popular religion in America behind Christianity and Judaism, according to the 2008 report from the the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. About 1.7 million Americans call themselves Buddhists, and many of them are converts, the study said. According to the American Religious Identification Survey in 2008, there were 1.2 million self-identified Buddhists.
Some inmates, like Brown, may not label themselves official Buddhists, but they meditate, practice yoga and followBuddhist principles on truth, responsibility and suffering.
at 6:57 AM
This isn't just where I work....it's mostly where I live.
The Denver Post
More than 100 passionate west-siders begged Denver city officials tonight not to mess with a recreation center that's considered the heart of the community.
Young and old, some angry and some fighting back tears, showed up for a meeting to discuss ways to try to preserve the La Alma Recreation Center just southwest of downtown at 1325 W. 11th Ave.
Faced with a $120 million deficit, the city is considering privatizing part of La Alma, while having the parks department oversee and improve the pool.
"Privatizing La Alma is like blowing out a candle," said neighborhood resident Chris Medina . "It is more than a neighborhood rec center. It is my home."
He and others fear that letting a nonprofit operate La Alma would change its character and could be the first step in its closure.
Craig Peña, a Santa Fe Drive businessman, talked about the role of La Alma in people's lives. He asked for a show of hands of how many people know "Rich from the rec center."
Nearly everyone raised their hand. Rich, it turned out, is the janitor at La Alma.
"I appreciate ... trying to balance our city budget, but I don't appreciate it being done on the backs of the west side," Peña said. "If privatizing were such a great idea it would be done all over the city. Don't start with us. Start with Wash Park."
at 6:54 AM
Thursday, October 08, 2009
CANON CITY - Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar on Thursday proposed a national solution to restore the health of America’s wild horse herds and the public rangelands that support them.
The new program will not affect the program in Canon City where inmates train wild horses for adoption.
A total of 65 inmates, working at the East Canon Prison Complex for Colorado Correctional Industries, care for 3,000 of the nation's 32,000 wild horses and burros which are being held in captivity at various facilities. Many of the horses held in Canon City are trained and adopted by the public, or used in programs such as one at U.S. Border Patrol stations, which have adopted 31 mustangs during the past two years.
"The recent economic downturn has seen public demand to adopt wild horses decline sharply," said Bob Abbey, director for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. "There is a high cost to hold these horses and humanely feed them in off-range holding facilities."
Another 37,000 horses and burros continue to roam the desert rangelands of 10 Western states - mostly in Nevada and Arizona - where drought has made for a shortage of both water and forage to sustain the wild herds. "Frankly these horses are in very bad condition," Salazar said. "We have outlined a new program we believe will better protect wild horses which are a symbol of our nation and better manage the public lands they roam where out-of-control populations have grown over time, from 25,000 in 1971 to 69,000 today."
at 12:39 PM
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Hundreds of low-level drug offenders in New York prisons became eligible Wednesday for shortened sentences or release under recent changes in state law.
Gov. David Paterson and lawmakers agreed in April to revise the Rockefeller-era drug laws, once among the harshest in the nation and in the vanguard of a movement more than 30 years ago toward mandatory prison terms. They argued that lower-level offenders would be better served by addiction treatment rather than prison.
"Under the Rockefeller Drug Laws, we did not treat the people who were addicted. We locked them up," Paterson said Wednesday at the Brooklyn Court House. "Families were broken, money was wasted, and we continued to wrestle with a statewide drug problem."
at 12:35 PM
Wednesday, October 07, 2009
My good friend Mike Krause on Huff Post
Colorado lawmakers' long-running devotion to the War on Drugs has helped push state prison spending to unsustainable levels. In the meantime, illicit drugs remain readily available throughout the state. This year, the Colorado Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice (CCJJ) has broken down into several sub-groups including a Drug Policy Task Force, to take a hard look at the state's drug laws and sentencing policies.
This is an excellent opportunity for fiscal conservatives to take the lead in bringing some much needed scrutiny and restraint to corrections spending in Colorado.
In 1992, Colorado lawmakers surrendered their prerogative to write the state's criminal law and enacted the Uniform Controlled Substances Act, written by drug war bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., and designed to bring state drug laws in to conformity with federal drug laws. The act, among many other things, created numerous new drug offenses, and sentencing enhancements for those offenses.
And the result?
Over the last several decades, the percentage of inmates whose most serious sentencing offense is a drug offense has quadrupled to around 20 percent of Colorado's prison population. Drug offenders are by far the single largest category of new admissions to Colorado prisons at around 23 percent of annual admissions.
There are more drug offenders in Colorado prisons today than the entire prison population 25 years ago when the state's inmate population was around 3,500.
Given this, you might think a drug-free Colorado is close at hand. You would be wrong.
at 2:17 PM