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.
WASHINGTON — Sheila Matthews took off her glasses to show me the wicked scar over her left eye.
"Had a patch on it for years. Someone slashed me. It wasn't until I got out of prison that I got it fixed. These people here helped me do it," she said, rolling the fixed eye around to show me how well it works now.
Matthews, 50, showed up two years ago at a tiny office in Washington called Our Place wearing her prison- issue sweats. She used the bus fare the warden gave her to get there, so when she arrived, she officially had zip.
No clothes, no phone, no home, no identification, no paperwork, nothing to prove who she was or who she had once been — a mother, grandmother and preschool teacher.
At that moment, she felt like nothing more than a scarred-up ex-con.
She had been part of a group that is growing at a truly devastating rate. In the past 30 years, the female prison population has grown by 832 percent, according to the Institute of Women in Criminal Justice.
There are about 200,000 women incarcerated in America. Many of them are second-tier, my-boyfriend-was- dealing targets in the war on drugs. Two-thirds of them are mothers.
In most cases, when a man is sentenced, the judge hands the term down, smacks a gavel and moves on.
But when a woman is locked up, there are usually kids involved, and often a judge asks: "Where are they going? Who's going to care for them?" Take Mom out of the picture and, usually, another struggling family takes on another child, or foster care absorbs three more. In most cases, when a woman is locked up, an entire fragile ecosystem collapses.
And one of the things that really gets to Ashley McSwain, the executive director of Our Place, is how these incarcerated women are treated. Not necessarily by the system, but by the people they love.
At a men's facility on visiting day, there is a long line outside, women dressed up pretty, hair done. Mothers are there in their Sunday best. Wives or girlfriends show up with kids on hips, excited to see Daddy.
At women's facilities? "Almost no one," McSwain tells me. Not their husbands or boyfriends. Not their mothers, who often are home taking care of the grandkids. And not the inmates' older children, who usually don't want to step foot in a prison.
"A lot of us just didn't want our kids to see us locked up," said Zandioni Day, 47, who got out a year ago after serving two for a drug conviction.