Colorado News Agency
Drug addiction and crime are serving as catalysts to unite some Democratic and Republican, as well as the attorney general and the state Public Defender’s Office, behind what they say is a common goal: reducing sentencing for drug offenders while carving out treatment opportunities from the cost savings. The resulting legislation, House Bill 1352, was introduced in the House today with wide-ranging bipartisan sponsorship.
“It’s a rare day when the Public Defender’s Office and the attorney general appear together to support a bill,” Republican Attorney General John Suthers said at a news conference showcasing the legislation.
The bill creates a distinction between possession of drugs and distribution of drugs by reducing sentences for possession, and it focuses on treatment rather than incarceration for those drug offenders who are primarily addicts.
The primary sponsors of the bill, Rep. Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs, and Sens. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, and Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield, based the bill upon recommendations from the Colorado Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice, whose members hail from different quarters of the criminal justice system. The premise of the bill that emerged out of the recommendations is that jailing non-violent drug offenders is not the best use of public-safety dollars.
“It’s time to switch our focus from being tough on crime to being smart on crime,” said Waller. “This bill is about how we can get the best bang for our public-safety dollars.”
Steadman said the state could save money and lives by being smarter.
“Incarceration is really not the right answer. The real problem with most prisoners is addiction,” said Steadman. “We need to be smarter with public resources by not simply warehousing drug addicts.”
Christie Donner, Executive Director of the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, said the measure will have far-reaching benefts for children whose parents are incarcerated.
“This change in approach will interrupt the cycle of addiction and involvement in the criminal justice system,” said Donner. “Families, especially the children, of those caught up in addiction and the criminal justice system, will benefit the most when the cycle is interrupted.”
The sponsors of the bill and its supporters in the criminal justice community say that using state resources for treatment leading to recovery will cut down on recidivism and save the state money in the long run. They say that could help prevent many crimes from being committed in the first place, such as burglary when a criminal is motivated by drug use.
Mesa Count District Attorney Pete Hautzinger implemented a treatment program for methamphetamine addicts in Mesa County, and he said there was a dramatic decline in felonies after the program was put in place.
“If we can get the drug addict ‘unaddicted’ we can prevent all sorts of other crimes,” said Hautzinger.
Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder, who is another of the bill’s sponsors and chairs the House Judiciary Committee, where the bill will be vetted first, said she hopes the proposal will be a real turning point in how crime and criminal sentencing are approached.
“I hope this is a beginning of a whole new attitude,” said Levy.
Who is the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition?
Our chief areas of interest include drug policy reform, women in prison, racial injustice, the impact of incarceration on children and families, the problems associated with re-entry and stopping the practice of using private prisons in our state.
If you would like to be involved please go to our website and become a member.
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Colorado News Agency