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.
As state lawmakers around the country struggle to balance their budgets, the criminal justice system is becoming a target for cuts.
The state of Missouri, for example, recently started informing judges just how much their sentences will affect the public coffers.
Three years of prison? That will cost taxpayers $37,000, while probation would ring up just a $6,770 bill.
The idea of putting a specific price tag on justice, and dangling it in front of judges as they mete out punishment, makes us uncomfortable.
It's not because we think it's wrong to figure out ways of trimming court and prison costs. But we think judges ought to impose appropriate sentences without regard to cost. The financial questions ought to be considered, but that should be the job of legislators, who can adjust penalty statutes to take prison population trends and social mores into account.
Missouri's program, detailed in a recent New York Times article, soon may be up for discussion in Colorado. We're told the staff of the Colorado Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice took notice of that Times piece and plans to circulate the article to commissioners as they look for ways to reform the state's sentencing laws to save costs.
The commission has other goals as well, but modifying sentencing laws to reduce prison populations — and the huge costs associated with keeping people behind bars — is certainly on their agenda.
The balance to be struck on this issue, as well as others the commission has considered, is whether proposed efficiencies would compromise the just operation of the system.
"They don't want to do that at the cost of justice," said Lance Clem, spokesman for the Colorado Department of Public Safety.
In Missouri, the information provided to judges comes at the direction of the state's sentencing advisory commission.
It's the only state in the union that routinely tells judges the cost of the sentences they are considering. As one might imagine, the practice has prompted some divergent opinions.
Some believe it is part and parcel of the fiscally conscious times we live in. Everything has a price tag, and that ought to be a part of the equation.
Others, and we find ourselves among them, aren't so sure it's proper to put that burden on judges. We're reasonably sure judges have a general idea of the cost of incarceration versus alternative sentences.