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.

If you would like to be involved please go to our website and become a member.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Editorial: Keeping felons out of schools - The Denver Post

Editorial: Keeping felons out of schools - The Denver Post

Prohibiting convicted felons from working in Colorado schools seems like a pretty easy notion to support.

After all, people who have committed crimes such as child abuse or indecent exposure have no business working in schools.

And while we like most of the ideas in a bill introduced by statehouse Republicans to disqualify certain convicted felons from school employment, we have concerns the bill might be too draconian in how it addresses drug convictions.

First, a little background.

House Bill 1121 would prohibit Colorado school districts from employing support staff, such as custodians and lunch workers, who have felony convictions for child abuse, crimes of violence, unlawful sexual behavior, indecent exposure and drug crimes.

Those prohibitions mostly are already in place for teachers, except for the felony drug crime prohibition. The bill would prohibit hiring teachers with prior felony drug convictions and define the circumstances under which current teachers with old convictions could be fired.

To be sure, a felony drug conviction is a serious matter. However, we can envision a circumstance in which someone embarking upon a second career as a teacher might have an old drug conviction from days when drug laws were more harsh.

Such a concern would also hold true for a support staffer who, decades ago, had a drug conviction but has had a clean record since then.

In years past, possession of even small amounts of certain illegal drugs could have resulted in felony convictions.

We wonder if there isn't an appropriate statute of limitations, so to speak, to be placed on such a conviction, at least if it is related to personal consumption as opposed to dealing drugs.

At the very least, legislators should consider making an old drug conviction — one that happened 10 or 20 years ago — to be a condition that could prohibit employment, not shall prohibit.

That way, school districts would not be forced to fire or decline to hire people who had an isolated drug possession years ago but otherwise have gone on to lead productive lives.

The other thing to keep in mind about this bill is the additional burden it will place on the Colorado Department of Education, which already is struggling to conduct background checks on people who've applied for teaching licenses. Additional mandates cannot come without additional resources.

With those caveats, we think the bill is another tool districts could use to ensure the safety of children.

Jane Urschel, deputy executive director of the Colorado Association of School Boards, told us that CASB also supports the bill.

Urschel said she did not see the bill setting off a "witch hunt," but rather would give districts a way to get rid of individuals with serious criminal backgrounds who may have slipped through checks.

The bill has been introduced, in slightly different forms, in two prior legislative sessions only to be defeated. We hope that with a little tweaking, the third time will be the charm for this effort.

Read more: Editorial: Keeping felons out of schools - The Denver Post http://www.denverpost.com/opinion/ci_17221387#ixzz1DbcGppTH
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