A Colorado Springs lawmaker expects to introduce a bill next week that would cut felony drug-possession sentences while increasing the state’s commitment to treating addicts.
Republican Rep. Mark Waller said the move, spurred by a study from the Colorado Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice, would save the state money while cutting crime.
“We need to take these knuckleheads and get them treatment before they escalate to armed robbery,” Waller, a former prosecutor, said at a gathering of sentencing reform advocates Friday night in Colorado Springs.
The state now houses more than 4,500 drug offenders in its prison system. State prison costs have skyrocketed in recent years, with the tab topping $600 million in 2009.
With the state facing a $1 billion budget shortfall in the fiscal year that starts in July, Democrats and Republicans have been eyeing ways to cut prison costs in a manner that won’t increase crime.
Other states, including Maryland and New York, have figured out how to cut crime and prison costs at the same time, Richard Jerome, with the Pew Center on the States, a nonprofit think-tank, told people at the Colorado Springs gathering.
The easiest way to accomplish those goals, the Colorado commission found, is to overhaul mandatory drug sentences, which can put people behind bars for years for owning or using a relatively small amount of drugs.
Waller’s plan is to give many drug offenders treatment in lieu of stiff prison sentences now mandatory under state law. Some of the money saved by the shorter sentences would go to treatment programs.
Waller’s bill hasn’t been unveiled, but the lawmaker said it has garnered the approval of Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter.
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.
Saturday, February 06, 2010