By Robert Hood
As 2011 comes to an end, it is time to make plans for 2012. Many people are thinking of resolutions for the New Year. Each year millions of adults resolve to "get in shape" or "lose weight." While the effort to adopt resolutions shows an optimistic sense of good intent personally, the same idea can be applied to your profession as a corrections officer.
As we get ready to ring in 2012, it's a good time to develop detailed goals that are more realistic for lasting societal change in a correctional setting.
During recent personal visits to jails, prisons, and community corrections facilities, along with criminal justice conference attendance, I heard recurring themes from colleagues across the United States. No specific order was used in preparing this list of initiatives for corrections:
1. Recommend changes for new FBOP director. Since 1930 only seven directors served the Federal Bureau of Prisons (FBOP). Harley Lappin retired on May 7, 2011 after eight years as the agency's most recent director, and the agency has been without a leader for the past eight months.
On December 21 the Attorney General appointed Charles Samuels, Jr. to serve as the 8th Director. Samuals was the FBOP's Assistant Director since January 2011. He was responsible for all inmate management and program functions.
Recommendations to improve the federal prison system include:
• Provide greater public/media access to institutions to enhance offender reentry initiatives
• Increase evidenced-based programs designed to reduce recidivism
• Develop proactive training to reduce the level of staff misconduct
The FBOP has 217,000 inmates and 38,000 staff. Most local and state correctional systems follow the federal system's model. Director Samuels will be tasked to bring major changes during budget and staff reductions.
2. Discontinue glorifying hardcore sheriffs/jail administrators. Greater recognition is needed for the men and women who effectively manage our nation's 2.3 million offenders. Far too much attention is placed on controversial leaders using pink underwear, tent cities, roundups of illegal immigrants, and other "above the law" tactics.
3. Provide geographic uniformity in capital punishment. Thirty-four states have the death penalty (16 states and the District of Columbia do not have capital crimes). More than 98 percent of the men and women on death rows across the United States are incarcerated as a result of state laws. If the public wants to maintain capital punishment, then provide more consistency among states.
4. Address mental illness in correctional settings. There is an inherent disconnect between the security mission and mental health considerations. There are perhaps as many as 300,000 offenders in jails and prisons suffering from mental disorders, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depression. Mental health services are often limited to brief cell-side conversations with mental health staff, and excessive use of medication. Incarceration by its very nature has an adverse effect on mental health.
5. Reduce levels of incarceration. America has one-quarter of the world's prisoners. More than seven million people are under correctional supervision in this country. We are not just incarcerating dangerous predators. More than one million prisoners in the United States are serving time for nonviolent offenses. In the federal prison system, for example, 55.7 percent of the inmates are classified as minimum or low security. Approximately 50 percent off all federal offenders are in for drug offenses. Eleven percent are held for immigration offenses.
The prison population is growing 13 times faster than the general population and is cost-prohibited. State correctional spending has quadrupled in the last two decades and now totals $52 billion a year.
Reduce sentences for non-violent offenders. Start with the 100,000 youth under the age of 18 that are released from juvenile correctional facilities each year. Analyze their prison experience and reduce this target group currently inside institutional settings. We should invest in our public schools instead of schools of crime.
6. Assist children of the offender. More than 54 percent of offenders are parents with minor children. One in every 28 children has a parent incarcerated. Two-thirds of these children's parents were incarcerated for nonviolent offenses. Work to reduce the cycle of crime by helping to mentor children without ongoing parental support.
7. Start "correcting" in "correctional institutions." Far too many facilities are just housing offenders. The label "correctional institution" should be earned. It needs to be applied to public and private facilities exceeding the basic requirements used during internal and external audits. New facilities should be constructed with reentry to the community in mind. Remember 95 percent of all offenders are released to the community. How people are handled as inmates will determine how they interact in public.
Key indicators such as recidivism rates, evidence-based reentry programs, percentage of inmate enrollments, and other positive characteristics need to be measured. Institutions are public buildings. Engage families and community members in the entire incarceration and reentry process.
8. Close GITMO (The Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility). The Gitmo facility holds only 171 detainees on 45 square-miles of a piece of island. The prison is the most expensive prison on earth, with base renovations estimated around $2 billion. The cost of housing each detainee is 30 times the cost of keeping a captive on United States soil. The nation's most secure federal prison in Colorado currently holds only 451 sentenced inmates; mostly terrorists, gang members, and spies. Shut down Gitmo and place these detainees in a separate section of this facility. Administrators will just need to separate those sentenced from detainees. An inmate population totaling 622 should be no problem for the "Alcatraz of the Rockies."
9. Enhance evidence-based reentry programs. Budget reductions often lead to diminished program opportunities for offenders. Since most inmates will return to the community, effective programs should be identified and retained. Victim offender mediation, faith-based programs, education/vocational classes, drug treatment, parenting, alternatives to violence, and contemplative offerings (meditation, yoga, prayer) should be offered. Use of volunteers provides an invaluable asset for correctional staff. Without effective intervention programs, we are merely postponing the time when prisoners return to prison. If states could reduce their recidivism rates by just 10 percent, they could save more than $635 million combined in one year alone in averted prison costs.
10. Enhance staff training and address misconduct. Staffing issues have become more critical in the face of budget reductions. Ongoing staffing analysis is needed. Quality training and proactive discussions on reducing staff misconduct would be of value.
Policy statements should identify an adequate number and types of staff to ensure the safety and security of staff, conduct operations, programs, and activities. The policy should also state the authority behind it (statutes, etc.). Staff should receive ongoing training on ethics using data from those who were found guilty of sustained misconduct.
Resolutions are much easier to make than to keep. Hopefully during 2012 correctional practitioners will strive to improve the correctional "system" by using the resolutions provided.
What is your corrections-focused resolution for 2012? What resolution do you think decision makers in the field should be making? Tell us in the comments below.
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.
Wednesday, December 28, 2011
Sunday, December 25, 2011
The Denver Post
The Garcia family's angels appeared in shirts and ties, singing "Feliz Navidad" as they approached the house on Umatilla Street.
Santa drove up behind them pulling a trailer packed with so many presents, it took the more than 30 men several minutes to carry everything inside the Denver home.
Taking it all in, Cristobal Garcia, 11, leaned against his aunt.
"This is the best Christmas I ever had," he said.
"Me, too," Patricia Garcia said.
It may be one of the more improbable of this season's Christmas stories, how these men — all of them addicts and convicts in a long-term treatment program — came to be called "angels" by a family that almost lost everything three months ago.
is a story, the men will tell you, of knowing what a big difference a little help can make, of understanding what it's like to give, of appreciating the power of grace. "I was so graciously lucky"
Paul Thompson was an addict for about 20 years before he stood before a judge one day in 1989, convicted of selling heroin.
He had heard of Peer I, a community corrections program affiliated with the University of Colorado Denver. He didn't think there was a chance the judge would send him there.
But the judge who had heard his case from the beginning was sick that day, and a retired judge took his place. She thought Thompson should get a shot.
Twenty-two years later, Thompson is still at Peer I. Only now, a room that used to be his bedroom is his office — and Thompson, 57, is the assistant director.
"I was so graciously lucky to be sentenced here," he said last week. "I grew up here. . . . Now I get to sit down with these guys and say, 'Let me tell you a story.' "
Mom talking to him again
Over and over, the men at Peer I say how lucky they are to be there, even with the highly structured schedule, strict rules and intense treatment.
Jason Worysz, 34, was using drugs by age 12 and left home by 15. A few years ago, he overdosed on heroin on Denver's 16th Street Mall and woke up three days later in the hospital. Within an hour of being released, he was popping pills. That same night, he was doing heroin again.
"I knew I was pretty sick," Worysz said. "I was the guy who people say, 'I never want to be that guy.' "
Nearly 14 months after getting to Peer I, Worysz is in the process of having tattoos removed and rebuilding relationships with his kids. Somehow, his mom has started talking to him again.
Addict given another chance
Mike Mills, 66, was a heroin addict most his life. He was in the state prison in Sterling — most of his old partners in crime long gone — when the powers that be gave him another chance.
Mills arrived at Peer I in January 2010, got off parole last week and is now a "senior client," serving as a liaison between staff and newer residents.
"The people here, they saved our lives," Mills said. "How do you tell somebody 'Thank you' for saving your life and giving you a life you never had?"
Their answer: You help someone else.
Each year, the men at Peer I participate in the AIDS Walk and Coats for Kids. Last week they went to the Denver Rescue Mission and handed out 200 burritos and hot chocolate. Worysz dressed up like Santa.
When they decided to adopt a family, Thompson called Denver police Sgt. Virginia Quiñones and asked if she knew of anyone who needed help. Technician Robert Martinez, a Marine who volunteers with Toys4Tots and works in the Garcias' neighborhood, had her answer.
Kids weren't expecting much
In September, a candle Patricia Garcia had left burning started a fire in the Denver family's home while they slept. Her husband, Julio, broke windows in an attempt to rescue Patricia and her children, Diana, 16, and Juan, 7. At one point, he grabbed a garden hose to try to put out the blaze.
Firefighters had to perform CPR to revive Patricia and Juan. They survived but spent several weeks in the hospital. Juan suffered third-degree burns on his stomach, chest and face.
Lacking home insurance and out of a job, Patricia took her family and moved in with her niece's family. For the past few months, all nine of them — four adults and five kids — have shared a three-bedroom house.
Money was tight, so the adults warned the kids not to expect much this holiday season.
Tears of joy all around
In preparation for Saturday, the Peer I clients contributed what they could. A handful of change. The last $13 one man had until payday. All told, more than 100 presents — toys, bikes, clothes and groceries bought with gift cards Walmart gave the men, as well as gifts from their own families — were delivered to the Garcias. The Denver police gang unit and Toys4Tots also contributed.
As the men unloaded all the gifts at the Garcias' home, Patricia and Julio stood by — stunned and crying. The children squealed and took turns hugging Santa. Some of the Peer I clients wiped their eyes.
"So many angels in one place," Patricia said as she hugged one of the men.
"These guys used to do bad things, but they're not bad people," Thompson said.
at 8:40 AM
Thursday, December 22, 2011
On behalf of the CCJRC family, we hope you and yours are well. The year-end brings no greater pleasure than the opportunity to express to you season's greetings and good wishes. Hoping your holidays and new year are filled with happiness, peace and prosperity.
As always, thank you for your continued support of CCJRC.
Christie, Ellen, John, and Pam
at 10:23 AM
The Denver Post
James Ness is carrying around a GPS device he hopes will tell him where not to go.
A recovering drug and alcohol abuser in court-ordered counseling, Ness is equipped with a smartphone that warns him when he's getting near old haunts that fueled his addictions: A north Denver bar. An apartment building packed with hard-partying friends. Enough risky points in Aurora to make him write off the whole city.
And since Ness is deaf, the Global Positioning System application vibrates rather than beeps.
Other applications on the phone give him a "panic" button with direct access to his counselor. If his local adviser isn't available, Ness can link through a video sign-language translator to other trusted friends. Another button offers motivational videos; still another links to a Facebook-style chat with other hearing-impaired clients supporting one another in recovery.
The phone is good cop/bad cop in one. His talks with supportive friends might be interrupted by an automated text from Arapahoe House, his counseling center, reminding Ness that it's his day to give a urine sample.
Ness, 40, is eager to add all the lifelines he can get.
Some of the same technology got the auto mechanic into trouble in the first place, with the wrong kind of Facebook friends and time wasted in YouTube distractions. Ness and Arapahoe House think it's only fair that new grants help the recovery center connect people for the right reasons.
at 5:42 AM
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
We should be asking: Is the drug war worth fighting? Is there such a thing as victory?
The scare tactics — raising alarms about youngsters falling under the evil spell of marijuana and tumbling down the slippery slope to a lifetime of degradation and crime — are used to ward off hard questions. The real policy question is not how to save kids from the bogeyman scare scenes depicted in "Reefer Madness," the government's ludicrous 1930s film advocating a ban on marijuana. Instead we should be asking: Is the drug war worth fighting? Is there such a thing as victory? Are the methods we employ worse than the supposed evils they are meant to prevent?
Alcohol prohibition from 1920 to 1933 taught the federal government that it pays to emphasize the “protect our youth” angle. This intimidates many from daring to question some of the corruption and unnecessary deaths and injuries resulting from violent drug enforcement. Even I, a former anti-drug warrior, am hesitant to risk being attacked as encouraging kids to think any drug use is harmless and cool. Yet I have joined thousands of former hard-charging cops, prosecutors and judges in an organization called Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, which unequivocally states that people can cure past drug excess, but can never cure the damage of a conviction and a youthful trip into the world of crime and the criminal justice system.
at 1:49 PM
Aurora officials looking for a way out of Adams County jail limits - Aurora Sentinel: News: AURORA | Aurora lawmakers on Monday continued to push back
against an Adams County plan to cap the number of jail inmates and
limit how many c…
at 9:03 AM
Monday, December 19, 2011
The Denver Post
A van transporting prisoners rolled over on Interstate 70 between Genoa and Limon this morning, killing one prisoner and one guard.
The van, operated by the , was carrying nine prisoners and two guards from the Kit Carson Correctional Facility in Burlington, which is operated by CCA, to the state prison in Limon when the accident occured.
The remaining prisoners and guard were taken to Lincoln Community Hospital in nearby Hugo, said Colorado State Patrol spokesman Trooper Nate Reid. Reid said some of the injured may be flown to Denver for treatment.
The Department of Corrections reports that all prisoners have been accounted for.
Names of those killed have not yet been released.
Reid said the Ford van, owned by CCA, was traveling west toward Limon, and pulling a trailer, when the driver apparently lost control and flipped over.
No other vehicles were involved. Reid said the roads likely were icy at the time of the accident.
at 2:21 PM
at 1:58 PM
By age 23, almost a third of Americans have been arrested for a crime, according to a new study that researchers say is a measure of growing exposure to the criminal justice system in everyday life.
The study, the first since the 1960s to look at the arrest histories of a national sample of adolescents and young adults over time, found that 30.2 percent of the 23-year-olds who participated reported having been arrested for an offense other than a minor traffic violation.
That figure is significantly higher than the 22 percent found in a 1965 study that examined the same issue using different methods. The increase may be a reflection of the justice system becoming more punitive and more aggressive in its reach during the last half-century, the researchers said. Arrests for drug-related offenses, for example, have become far more common, as have zero-tolerance policies in schools.
The study did not look at racial or regional differences, but other research has found higher arrest rates for black men and for youths living in poor urban areas.
Criminal justice experts said the 30.2 percent figure was especially notable at a time when employers, aided by the Internet, routinely conduct criminal background checks on job candidates.
“This estimate provides a real sense that the proportion of people who have criminal history records is sizable and perhaps much larger than most people would expect,” said Shawn Bushway, a criminologist at the State University at Albany and a co-author of the study, which appears in Monday’s issue of the journal Pediatrics.
The study analyzed data collected as part of the federal government’s National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. The 7,335 participants were nationally representative and ranged in age from 12 to 16 when they were enrolled in the survey in 1996. The first interviews were conducted in 1997. Follow-up interviews have been carried out annually since then.
The researchers found that the probability of a first arrest accelerated in late adolescence and early adulthood — at 18, 15.9 percent of the participants reported having been arrested — and then began to flatten out as the youths entered their 20s.
Robert Brame, a professor of criminal justice and criminology at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, and the lead author of the study, said he hoped the research would alert physicians to signs that their young patients were at risk.
“We know that arrest occurs in a context,” Dr. Brame said. “There are other things going on in people’s lives at the time they get arrested, and those things aren’t necessarily good.”
If doctors can intervene, he added, “It can have big implications for what happens to these kids after the arrest, whether they become embedded in the criminal justice system or whether they shrug it off and move on.”
at 8:33 AM
Thursday, December 15, 2011
The Looming Death of the Death Penalty - The Atlantic
The year-end report by the folks at the Death Penalty Information Center tell more and more Americans what they already know in their hearts to be true: The death penalty experiment is failing yet again. Undermined by overzealous prosecutors, a hobby-horse for incurious politicians, too often taken unseriously by jurors and witnesses, capital punishment in America has devolved since 1976 into a costly, inaccurate, racially biased, and unseemly proposition.
We clearly can't do it right, and more people are wondering whether we should continue doing it at all. The facts and figures of 2011 soberly reflect the nation's evolving perceptions of the problems inherent in the justice system's ultimate punishment. For decades, "death is different" has been the courtroom mantra of capital cases. But now, and with increasing clarity, "death is different" is becoming a discernible trend all across the country. From the DPIC's annual summary:
New death sentences dropped to 78 in 2011, representing a dramatic decline from last year's number of 112 and marking the first time since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976 that the country has produced fewer than 100 death sentences in a single year... Death sentences have declined about 75 percent since 1996, when 315 individuals were sentenced to death. Executions have also steadily decreased nationwide, with 43 in 2011 and 46 in 2010, representing a 56 percent decline since 1999, when there were 98. Texas had 13 executions in 2011, and 24 in 2009, representing a 46 percent drop over two years.There are a lot of reasons for these numbers. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty less often because of the prohibitive costs of capital cases. Judges and jurors have new sentencing options (like life in prison without parole). Politicians can no longer deny the unsettling number of wrongful convictions that have sent hundreds of innocent people to death row over the years. The Supreme Court has sent unmistakable signals to lower court judges to rein in trial excesses. And most of the civilized world has turned against the practice.
at 7:45 AM
The Denver Post
Department of Corrections officials will meet in Sterling today to try to understand why four inmates have been killed at the prison there in the past two years.
DOC executive director Tom Clements said he is meeting with Sterling Correctional Facility warden Kevin Milyard to be debriefed on each of the cases.
"We're looking at cell assignment protocols," Clements said. "We want to see if there are any common denominators. It's got my attention."
The focus is on Sterling because all other prisons in DOC have a total of just three murders in roughly the same time frame.
The most recent Sterling case was Lyle Brent White, a convicted child killer who had told his sister he feared for his life before he was beaten to death.
"He's been threatened ever since he's been in there," said White's sister Elizabeth. "This totally could have been prevented."
An inmate who beat White to death Dec. 1 at Sterling told investigators the "cho-mo" — or child molester — got what he deserved, his sister said.
White had not been convicted of a sex crime but was behind bars for the murder of an 11-year-old boy.
Five days earlier, convicted sex offender Mark Frederick Hanson, who was serving a two-year prison term for repeatedly failing to register as a sex offender, also was beaten to death at Sterling. Three of the four inmates killed there in the past 21 months were behind bars for either sex offenses or crimes against children.
The rash of prison murders is extraordinary in a county that will go years without a single homicide, Logan County District Attorney Robert Watson said.
Watson said that errors in prison classifications or placements may have contributed to the deaths.
DOC spokeswoman Kath erine Sanguinetti said Sterling has more than 2,500 convicted felons, or more than 10 percent of the state's prisoners, and violent confrontations do occur.
"Unfortunately, no matter how hard we try to protect them, sometimes this kind of thing happens," she said.
at 6:07 AM
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
The Denver Post
The state's youth corrections facilities aren't sufficiently ensuring the safety of juvenile offenders and, in many cases, aren't doing enough to prevent potential sexual aggressors and victims from being assigned to the same sleeping quarters.
That was one of several problems identified in a state audit released Monday of youth corrections facilities. The audit also found juveniles sometimes are denied due process rights in disciplinary procedures, and in one case, a facility's behavior management program actually resulted in "an environment of bullying and intimidation."
The Division of Youth Corrections is under the Department of Human Services, which largely agreed with the findings in the audit and said it had either immediately corrected many of the problems or was in the process of doing so.
The division is responsible for youth corrections programs for offenders ages 10 to 21. The agency runs 11 state-operated facilities and oversees 51 contractor-operated facilities at a cost of more than $132 million a year.
"In some cases, youth safety is compromised because facilities do not ensure that youth are placed with a suitable roommate," the state audit found. "For example, facility policies at 44 percent of facilities we visited do not prohibit potential victims and aggressors from being housed in the same sleeping room."
In addition, staff members at many facilities were either using outdated vulnerability assessment forms or weren't filling them out accurately or consistently.
Department officials noted the division does have an explicit policy preventing potential aggressors and victims from being house together. The audit did not cite any instances of sexual assault occurring as a result of problems with vulnerability assessments.
Auditors found juvenile offenders were not always given due process rights when disciplined. In at least seven cases reviewed, juveniles were locked in their rooms in violation of state law. This happened to entire housing units at times.
at 10:39 AM
The Denver Post
Denver's new police chief, Robert White, took the oath of office Monday, vowing to usher in a new era of trust and respect between police and a community stunned by several high-profile brutality cases.
White, who left the same job in Louisville, Ky., to come to Denver, said he plans to build on work done by his predecessor, Gerry Whitman, who held the job for 12 years.
White said Whitman, who returns to the rank of captain, did a great job. But the new chief also said he expects to improve on it.
"We will be a better department than we have ever been," White told a crowd of police brass and city officials at his swearing-in ceremony. ". . . I agree with (Mayor Michael Hancock) that this is a good Police
at 6:40 AM
Monday, December 12, 2011
The Denver Post
Robert White, who left his job as chief of the Louisville, Ky., police department was sworn in late Monday morning to head Denver's 1,400 member police force.
White will work to change the culture among officers who, some say, refuse to report when colleagues brutalize civilians, he said this morning.
He is taking over a department that has been troubled by a string of high-profile excessive force cases and the firings that followed.
Former Safety Manager Al LaCabe said recently that while it is rare for a cop to hurt someone in custody without reason, it is an accepted part of doing business for a small number of officers. And even good cops are reluctant to turn in a cop who does engage in excessive force.
"I honestly believe the great majority of the men and women in the police department want to do the right thing," White said during an interview at police headquarters prior to the swearing in.
He said those who engage in unnecessary violence will be held accountable.
at 12:32 PM
Thursday, December 08, 2011
The Denver Post
Arapahoe County Sheriff Grayson Robinson has created a 22-member task force to handle the expanding investigation into former Sheriff Patrick Sullivan, who was arrested last week for exchanging methamphetamine for sex.
The task force will include members of multiple jurisdictions. A 24-hour hotline also will be opened to gather tips from the public.
The expanded size of the task force is "a reflection of the complexity of what we are dealing with and the potential not only for additional charges but possibly other people," Robinson said.
He is expected to announce which agencies will be involved, as well as a person who has been appointed to lead the task force, later today.
In addition to the Arapahoe
He was arrested Nov. 29 after police said he tried to exchange meth with a confidential informant he believed was a gay prostitute.
He is charged with felony possession of methamphetamine, distribution of methamphetamine, attempting to influence a public servant and misdemeanor solicitation of a prostitute.
On Tuesday, he posted $50,000 bond and was released from jail.
Robinson also said today that the person leading the task force will continue to report to him, and that he has taken steps to ensure the investigation of his former boss is fair and transparent.
"I'm not going to distance myself from my responsibilities," he said.
Questions about whether Robinson had a conflict in the case arose during a testy exchange earlier this week between the sheriff and the Centennial City Council.
An anonymous council member, through the city attorney, asked whether a special investigator should be appointed to lead the case because members of the public may be fearful of talking with investigators from Sullivan's former department.
Robinson, whose agency provides law enforcement services in Centennial, took issue with the council member wanting to remain anonymous, and made his dissatisfaction known.
"I expect a little different treatment," Robinson told the council. "I expect openness, I expect transparency, and I expect people to come forward and talk to me directly, so we can have an adult, meaningful conversation."
at 5:38 PM
Wednesday, December 07, 2011
The Denver Post
Colorado's notoriously underfunded and fragmented mental-health-care system still has far to go, but it has improved substantially over the past decade, according to a year-long assessment.
"The Status of Behavioral Health Care in Colorado" commissioned by the Colorado Health Foundation, Caring for Colorado Foundation, The Colorado Trust and The Denver Foundation, was presented this morning before a crowd at the Denver Art Museum.
The report found much to be optimistic about. For example, funding here has grown, coordination of services has improved, and there are more mental health practitioners.
Colorado is a leader in integrating mental health care with primary care, which not only identifies mental illness sooner, it also saves money.
But in all those cases, the caveat is: it's better but not nearly good enough.
"People always say 'the system is broken,'" said study author Andrew Keller of TriWest Group. "The system is not broken, it's just really complicated and it's never really worked."
Clearly, Colorado still has work to do.
*Three in 10 Coloradans — about 1.5 million people — need mental health or substance abuse treatment.
*State spending on substance abuse treatment and prevention is one-third the national average.
*The state needs more mental health and substance abuse treatment providers, but the numbers have grown, from 10,564 in 2003 to 14,217 in 2010.
*The overwhelming majority of treatment providers — 82 percent of all psychiatrists, 86 percent of all child psychiatrists and essentially all psychiatrists specializing in substance abuse — are in the Denver and Colorado Springs metro areas. Many rural counties, especially on the Eastern Plains, have few if any treatment providers.
*The most recent data, from 2007, show Colorado ranks 32nd in the nation for funding mental health care, down a notch from its ranking of 31st in 2001. While Colorado has increased per capita spending, from $62 in 2001 to $84 in 2007, other states have made greater increases, Keller said.
And, Keller said, "If you are a youth or an adult of color, it is very likely that the first time you get services will be in jail."
That is not only a "travesty," he said, but it adds millions to treatment costs.
And while many insurance carriers are offering more coverage for mental health care, Keller said that for those with severe mental illness, Medicaid or other public programs often offer more comprehensive treatment.
Much of the reason for that, he said, results from public policy that dates to the days when the mentally ill were confined in state hospitals.
The current study is a follow-up to a blistering 2003 critique of the state's mental health system. That report, also done by TriWes, concluded that mental-health care in Colorado was woefully underfunded and that services were a "complicated array" so "confusing, redundant" and "outright unavailable," that the state barely had a mental health system at all.
The situation has improved, and the report highlighted ways to make it even better.
Doing a better job of integrating social services, health care and mental health treatment is one strategy that is effective and saves money, Keller said.
Dr. Chris Urbina, the state's chief medical officer, said at the end of the presentation that he intends to take very seriously the report's recommendations.
"I do know change is very slow, but we're committed to taking these recommendations and looking at them very seriously," Urbina said.
There likely won't be any more money, but "mental health and substance abuse are going to be one of our winnable battles," he said.
The full report is available at www.ColoradoMentalHealth.org.
at 6:40 PM
Sunday, December 04, 2011
The Denver Post
Colorado keeps a distressingly high number of its prisoners in solitary confinement — seven times the national average.
Also troubling is that more than one in five are mentally ill.
The Colorado Department of Corrections seems poised to do something about this situation, and we're glad to see it.
However, the budgetary reality of public policy in Colorado makes us wonder whether there is enough money for treatment that might keep some of the mentally ill fit enough to stay in the general prison population.
And it surely seems unlikely the folks at the Capitol are going to be able to cobble together much in the way of additional funding for community-based mental health services and substance abuse treatment.
That's unfortunate because it seems like a logical way to address troubled people before they commit crimes.
We look forward to seeing how the DOC will address the situation.
The issue of prisoners held in solitary — or administration segregation, in DOC language — came to light as a result of outside complaints that it was being used as a long-term plan for dealing with the mentally ill.
To its credit, the DOC commissioned a study of the situation. The two consultants who examined Colorado's system had helped the Mississippi Department of Corrections decrease its number of prisoners in solitary from 950 to 150.
Not only is such a decrease often a more humane way of treating prisoners, it's also a money saver.
Colorado houses nearly 1,500 prisoners in solidary confinement. The report the DOC commissioned says more than 20 percent of them are mentally ill.
The Colorado American Civil Liberties Union, which has been pushing for reform on this issue, contends many inmates are put into solitary because mental and behavioral health programs have been eliminated or reduced because of lack of funds.
In testimony before the state legislature earlier this year, the ACLU cited figures that showed it costs a lot more to house inmates in solitary.
A DOC spokeswoman, who said prisoners who are housed alone still get visits from prison staff, couldn't provide us with the cost differential, but acknowledged it's significant.
If the state were able to move some of those inmates out of solitary, it could save Colorado a lot of money.
The state might then also be able to provide better transitional program opportunities for these inmates so they are better prepared for living in the outside world when their release date comes up.
at 9:27 PM
The Denver Post
Colorado's young people rank among the top 10 states with the highest rates of illicit drug use in the past month, cocaine use in the last year, and have the least perception of risk associated with having five or more drinks once or twice a week.
Leading the charge in Colorado, particularly during the months between November and April, is Summit County. Each ski season, young, single seasonal workers and vacationers from around the world ascend the hill to "Colorado's Playground" to spend a week or a season letting loose and getting high.
Breckenridge revels in its reputation as the skiing world's best party town. For the people who live there and raise kids there, it can be a challenge to promote a healthy lifestyle regarding drug and alcohol use when getting messed up is ubiquitous and nearly normalized.
As a result, alcohol and drugs find their way into the high school — and not just marijuana, but hard drugs like cocaine, LSD, ecstasy and more. In a small informal poll of the high school students I work with, I was told that the drugs that end up in our students' hands come from young men and women who move here to exploit the winter market.
A lot of people come to Summit County for a year or two to "live the lifestyle," and while they're at it, more than a few overdo it.
When they do, they often end up in jail. If the initial arrest doesn't scare them and they continue to engage in the addictive use, they usually end up in front of the judge again. Some get to go the drug court route. Still others sit in jail because of a lack of resources.
Drug court seeks to treat the addiction to reduce the crime and rehabilitate the criminal. It is an alternative to prison. Currently, there are more than 2,500 drug courts in the U.S., including 24 in Colorado.
There are eight participants in the year-old Summit County drug court. For all eight of the young men, it is literally their last stop before prison. To participate in drug court, they have to volunteer to do so, be a resident of Summit County, and meet the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual criteria for chemical dependency. Sex or violent offenders are not admitted.
Drug court is necessarily difficult and demanding. Participants are in the program for 18 to 24 months. They receive sanctions that range from a verbal reprimand to jail or termination from drug court, depending on the seriousness, and incentives for compliance. They are rewarded immediately for good behavior. They work in the community in regular jobs, go to therapy up to as much as twice a day, meet their probation officer at least once a week, and are tested for drugs and alcohol randomly, leaving time for little else.
Good behavior means 100 percent compliance in the two weeks between drug court sessions. The eight young men in drug court are held accountable by the drug court team in four areas: participation, probation, drug testing, and therapy.
of the band Phish, a drug court graduate and now a national spokesperson, said, "When I was in it, it was very hard and I was not a huge fan." Now, he credits drug court for giving him his life back. He even wrote a thank you note to his arresting officer.
The Summit County drug court team is made up of the judge, the district attorney, a probation officer, a public defender, someone from the sheriff's department, and a representative from the treatment facility. "It's a collaborative effort. Everyone plays such an integral part," said drug court Judge Karen Romeo.
at 9:25 PM
Friday, December 02, 2011
Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber said this week that he will halt the execution of a death row inmate scheduled for next month and will allow no more executions in the state during his term. “It is time for Oregon to consider a different approach,” Governor Kitzhaber told reporters. “I refuse to be a part of this compromised and inequitable system any longer; and I will not allow further executions while I am governor.”
Oregon is one of at least seven states that allow the death penalty but have not used it in more than a decade. The state's last execution was in 1997. Both of the two people executed in Oregon since the death penalty was enacted in 1984 waived their appeals and "volunteered" for execution.
Governor Kitzhaber presided over both executions. “I do not believe that those executions made us safer," he said this week. "Certainly I don’t believe they made us more noble as a society." The governor granted a temporary reprieve to Gary Haugen, another volunteer scheduled to be put to death next month.
Noting the length of time many inmates spend on death row, often more than 20 years, Governor Kitzhaber said Oregon had an “unworkable system that fails to meet basic standards of justice.” He said there was a wide sense the death penalty process was flawed but that the state had “done nothing; we have avoided the question.” He asked legislators to address reforms and urged a statewide debate about the death penalty.
at 9:55 AM