There was a time in the mid-1990s when Dorothy Rupert, then a state senator from Boulder, made a point out of touring every prison in Colorado. No easy feat, since at the time the state had the fastest-growing corrections system in the country. "I was just appalled at the rapid growth," Rupert recalls. "It took a hundred years to lock up a thousand people in Colorado. By the mid-1980s, we'd tripled that. People said that it was just keeping up with the overall population, but that wasn't true."
By the end of the 1990s, thanks largely to harsher sentencing schemes and the war on drugs, Colorado's prison population had doubled again and was approaching 20,000 inmates. And Rupert had become one of the staunchest critics of the lock-'em-up mentality down at the statehouse. Rupert left the legislature in 2000, but this week, she and former state representative Penfield Tate will receive the inaugural Rupert-Tate Game Changer Award at a fundraiser benefit for the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition -- an organization launched in response to the two lawmakers' pioneering efforts to put the brakes on the burgeoning prison-industrial complex in their back yard.
In 1999, Tate and Rupert sponsored an audacious bill calling for a three-year moratorium on prison expansion and the creation of a task force to explore alternatives to incarceration for low-level offenders. "It was something that needed to be talked about," says Rupert, a Democrat who taught in public schools for 35 years. "The war on drugs was just a heartbreaking experience for me, for some of my students, for our country."
The bill didn't pass. "The prison industry has the same kind of relationship with state legislators that the Pentagon has with Congress," Rupert says. "There are all these heavy lobbyists, and the fear factor is immense. A lot of people said they would love to support me, but they just couldn't."
Yet the battle prompted some of the bill's supporters to build a statewide, grassroots reform organization -- the CCJRC, which has gone on to successfully push for major revisions in drug sentencing laws, parole conditions, and related issues.
The state's escalating prison population has leveled off in recent years and even diminished slightly, leaving corrections officials puzzling over what to do with a spare supermax and closing other costly facilities.
"The only good thing about being in a recession is that it has made us pull back on locking people up in crazy ways," Rupert notes.
Rupert is 86 now. She no longer tours public and private lock-ups with any regularity, but she teaches a class in democracy at the University of Colorado at Boulder. And she's full of praise for CCJRC and its executive director, Christie Donner: "I'm just so grateful for their voices."
Donner's group feels the same way about Rupert and Tate, who will be the first recipients of their eponymous award at the organization's annual fundraiser on Thursday, September 20, from 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. at Mile High Station, 2027 West Colfax Avenue. The event features dinner, guest speakers -- including two former inmates now active in assisting others in re-entry programs -- and a silent auction of trips, concert tickets, cooking classes and other goodies, including a Scarabeo scooter.
For more information or to purchase tickets, check out the CCJRC website or call 303-825-0122.
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, September 18, 2012
Friday, September 14, 2012
The Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition will honor two former state legislators during its annual fundraiser next Thursday.
In 1999, Sen. Dorothy Rupert, D-Boulder, and Rep. Penfield Tate, D-Denver, sponsored legislation calling for a three-year halt on prison expansion and the creation of a task force to explore effective alternatives to incarceration.
The bill failed but it helped inspire a statewide, grassroots movement for criminal justice reform.
Tate and Rupert will be at the fundraiser to accept the inaugural “Rupert-Tate Game Changer Award.” Tate and Rupert’s vision was “on-point but ahead of their time,” said Christie Donner, CCJRC’s executive director.
The event is scheduled for 5 to 9:30 p.m. Sept. 20 at Mile High Station, 2027 W. Colfax Ave., in Denver. Tickets for the event, which features dinner and silent and live auctions, are $75 per person. Tickets can be purchased online at www.ccjrc.org or by calling 303-825-0122.
Tate and Rupert’s “leadership inspired many of us in the community to come together and continue to push for a re-evaluation of policies driving growth in the prison population, like the failed war on drugs,” she said. “It seems perfectly fitting that CCJRC would circle back to the leaders who inspired our founding and honor all that they helped to achieve.”
Also at the event, Kris Dafni, program director for Turnabout, and Khalil Halim, client supervisor for It Takes a Village, will speak about their experiences as inmates who went on to provide counseling and support for those looking to end the cycle of poverty and crime.
For more information, visit www.ccjrc.org.
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Tuesday, September 11, 2012
Justice Policy Institute
JPI's newest analysis shows that the practice of using money to decide release while awaiting trial unfairly impacts low-income communities and should be replaced with alternatives that better protect public safety and reduce social and taxpayer costs.
Bail Fail: Why the U.S. Should End the Practice of Money for Bail shows how the average bail amount for people who are detained has more than doubled from $39,800 in 1992 to $89,900 in 2006. This is despite evidence that higher bail amounts are not related to more public safety and that people who are unable to afford money bail are often a lower risk of dangerousness or failure to appear in court – the two legal justifications to incarcerate someone pretrial – than those who can make bail.
owding jails and creating unsustainable budgets.”
The report is the first in a three-part series of analysis on bail, for-profit bail bonding and the community impacts slated for release throughout the month of September.
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Wednesday, September 05, 2012
The Denver Post
A decade ago, there were 3,578 adult Latinos in Colorado's state prisons. At the end of the last fiscal year, there were more than twice that, according to the Colorado Department of Corrections.
Colorado does not have the same problematic numbers as the federal prison system, where more than half of all prisoners sentenced to time behind bars last year were Latino. But the percentage of Latino prisoners in Colorado does outstrip the size of that population. Colorado's Latino population now stands at 20.9 percent. In prisons, Latinos account for 33 percent of all those locked up, Colorado corrections department figures show.
Latinos have consistently made up about 30 percent of the state's prison population for the past decade.
Part of that increase in total numbers is due to the increase in the Latino population.
But another factor, according to the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, is likely due to the fact that there is more street-level policing in neighborhoods with high Latino populations.
"There has been consistent evidence over time that people of color are significantly more likely to be arrested and incarcerated, particularly for drug offenses," said Christie Donner, executive director of the coalition.
Figures for Colorado's inmate population show some other disparities in prison populations related to race. African-American males and females now make up 20 percent and 15 percent of their respective prison populations, while that racial group totals only 4.3 percent of Colorado's population.
Meanwhile, Caucasian men and Caucasian women represent 44 percent and 52 percent of their respective prison populations in Colorado. But Caucasians, who are not identified as of Hispanic descent in the latest U.S. Census report, comprise about 70 percent of the general population in the state.
Colorado's incarceration figures for Latinos may be out of proportion to population, but they are more in balance than the latest national count for Latino prisoners in federal prisons. Latinos now outnumber all other ethnic groups sentenced to serve time in federal prisons for felonies, according to the U.S. Sentencing Commission.
In 2012, more than half of all people being sent to federal prisons for felony crimes are Latino, commission numbers show. Latinos, who make up 16 percent of the U.S. population, added up to 50.3 percent of those sentenced to federal prisons. African-Americans made up 9.7 percent and Caucasians 26.4 percent.
Thirty-three percent of the Latinos sent to federal penitentiaries were there for immigration crimes, including illegal crossing and immigrant smuggling. Immigration crimes have been responsible for most of the increase in the number of Latinos sent to prison in the last decade, the commission's statistics show.
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Tuesday, September 04, 2012
The Denver Post
For 12 years, virtually the only exposure Troy Anderson has had to the outdoors has come in a 90-square-foot room.
At one end of the room are two slits in the wall that are 6-inches wide and 5-feet tall. The slits are covered with metal grates. On one wall of the room is a chin-up bar.
This, Colorado Department of Corrections officials argued in a lawsuit Anderson filed, satisfied the constitutional requirement that Anderson, a prisoner at the Colorado State Penitentiary, be given outdoor exercise opportunities.
In a ruling issued last week, a federal judge in Denver disagreed and ordered prison officials to allow Anderson to exercise in a place with no roof where the rain can fall on him and the wind can blow at him.
"The Eighth Amendment does not mandate comfortable prisons," U.S. District Judge R. Brooke Jackson wrote in his ruling, "but it does forbid inhumane conditions."
Anderson's treatment, Jackson wrote, was "a paradigm of inhumane treatment."
The ruling could have widespread impact.
The Colorado State Penitentiary, or CSP for short, is the most restrictive prison in the state system and is used to house the state's most dangerous inmates. Prisoners are kept in their cells for at least 23 hours a day. Meals come through a slot in the cell door. The only window in the cell is difficult to look through.
There are 756 inmates at the prison, according to the Department of Corrections. Anderson, who has spent most of his adult life in prison for crimes that include a shootout with police, is one of nine inmates who have been housed in solitary confinement for more than 10 years, according to Jackson's ruling.
Anderson's attorneys — law students from the University of Denver and their faculty advisors — say the ruling could mean that all inmates at CSP must be given genuine outdoor exercise time.
"We're hopeful the ruling will be the catalyst ... to change that inhumane practice," DU law professor Brittany Glidden, one of the faculty advisers, said.
But, in an e-mail, a Department of Corrections spokeswoman said the department sees the ruling as applying only to Anderson. Jackson gave the department 60 days to come up with a plan for giving Anderson outdoor exercise for one hour at a time, three days a week.
One of the options, Glidden said, is that the department might just move him into a less-resrtictive prison.
"We just received the ruling and are now analyzing how we are going to implement the judge's orders," DOC spokeswoman Katherine Sanguinetti wrote in an e-mail.
Jackson noted in his ruling that one prison expert who testified at trial in the case said CSP is the only prison in the nation that does not provide true outdoor exercise for inmates. Instead, across the country, prisons are rethinking the use of prolonged solitary confinement.
"CDOC officials," Jackson wrote, "know that CSP is out of step with the rest of the nation."
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