The Pueblo Chieftain
DENVER — It's difficult enough to get prosecutors and defense lawyers to agree on basic facts — the sun rising in the morning, for instance.
But on Monday, state Rep. Sal Pace, D-Pueblo, convinced interests on both sides of the prison fence that there's value to providing services parolees need to avoid returning to prison and, in turn, spare the state $15 million to use on other programs.
With the support of the state Public Defender, the Colorado District Attorneys Council, the Colorado Department of Corrections, the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition and others that tend to be polarized by law-and-order issues, Pace's HB1360 advanced unanimously Monday through the House Judiciary Committee.
"The whole goal is to take the cost savings from decreased time in prison and use it to prevent people from committing other crimes," Pace said.
About $3.1 million of the savings would be devoted to the programs outlined in Pace's bill.
The bill seeks to reduce the number of parolees who violate conditions of parole without committing new crimes. It aims to isolate the factors that tend to divert released prisoners off the right path and address them specifically. That would be determined using evidence-based formulas for determining likelihood of recidivism, and affording opportunities for treatment to intercede in the cases of parolees who pose the lowest risks.
It provides for halfway house space and treatment in the areas that are most often pitfalls for parolees — such as housing, employment, mental health and substance abuse.
"The keystone in all of this is support services for parolees when they come out of prison," said Christine Donner of the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition.
The bill would provide for 70 more beds in halfway-house-style situations for parolees who violate technical terms of parole without committing new offenses. By being placed in those settings, they would not take up prison beds and would get the treatment they need to avoid repeating their violations.
The parole board also would have the option of releasing some parolees directly into the programs to prevent violation in the first place.
Pace said in Pueblo, organizations like Crossroads' Turning Points, Spanish Peaks Mental Health Center, Minnequa Community Corrections and Community Corrections Services Inc., could provide the services the bill seeks to make available to parolees to keep them on track.
For those parolees who have violated the rules but are deemed to be low-risk, the bill calls for 90-day sentences in community return to custody facilities — similar to halfway houses — rather than 180-day stays in prison.
The bill will go through the House Appropriations Committee on its way to the House floor for debate.
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.
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
The Pueblo Chieftain