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.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Crime is down; keep it that way - The Denver Post

Crime is down; keep it that way - The Denver Post

Crime is down dramatically across the country. Nationally, the murder rate dropped a whopping 10 percent in the first half of 2009 over the same stretch in 2008. And other crimes, such as rape, robbery and car theft, were down, too.

The view is a bit more nuanced at the local level, but the overarching theme — with a few exceptions — is one of roughly stable or declining crime in many categories tracked by the FBI.

There is a message here for state legislators who likely will consider sentencing reform in the coming months as a way to decrease prison expenditures.

They must be very careful about how they tweak sentencing laws so as not to upset these long-term positive trends of declining crime. It would be a shame if any such revision resulted in an uptick in crime because, for instance, bad guys who really ought to be behind bars were out committing crimes.

That's one of the reasons experts cited for declining murder rates — the fact that prison sentences are so long and the people who would otherwise kill are locked up. There are other reasons as well, according to a Denver Post story by reporter Kirk Mitchell, including the aging population and better criminal investigatory tools.

It is, of course, very difficult to say with precision what is at work. But a 58 percent decline in Denver's murder rate, which went from 91 killings in 2004 to 38 in 2009, is definitely a trend to be noted.

In Colorado's sentencing reform discussions, no one is talking about releasing murderers or cutting their prison terms. The idea is to come up with recommendations that would reduce prison costs, yet maintain public safety with just sentencing laws.

The Colorado Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice, which has been charged with examining sentencing reform, wrote in a November report that research shows incarceration has a far greater impact when it is used to keep violent, frequent offenders behind bars. Putting low-rate, non-violent offenders in prison doesn't "prevent and deters few crimes," according to the report.

The tough part is figuring out who falls into what categories. To that end, the commission has made some 40 recommendations, including dialing back penalties for marijuana possession. They also include removing the mandatory prison requirement for individuals who, for instance, fail to return to a halfway house on time.

This legislative session will be dominated by the state budget gap and the difficult actions that will be necessary to balance the books. But we hope as lawmakers look at reshaping sentencing laws, they will consider not only the savings but the important and sometimes subtle effects such revisions can have on a positive trend like decreasing crime.

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