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, March 31, 2015
FAMM Member, Others, Receive Presidential Commutations
WASHINGTON, D.C. – President Obama granted clemency today to 22
federal prisoners, including a member of Families Against Mandatory
“We are thrilled that President Obama is making good on his promise
to use the powers granted him by the Constitution to provide relief for
federal prisoners serving excessively long mandatory minimum sentences,”
said Julie Stewart, president and founder of Families Against Mandatory
Minimums. “We hope and expect to see more commutations granted through
the end of his term.”
The following FAMM member received clemency:
- Donel Marcus Clark
has served over two decades of a 30-year prison sentence for
participating in a nonviolent drug conspiracy, his first and only
offense, during a time when his family was facing financial hardship.
Desperate for money, Donel became involved in low level role in a
friend’s crack conspiracy, and was eventually convicted and sentenced to
35 years (later reduced to 30) in prison—even the Assistant U.S.
Attorney who prosecuted Donel believed his sentence was too harsh.
During his time in prison, Donel has maintained a perfect disciplinary
record, earned outstanding work reviews, taken numerous classes, and
worked to maintain strong relationships with his children.
since the beginning of his incarceration over 20 years ago,” said
Brittany K. Byrd, Clark’s attorney. “He is overwhelmed with joy at the
news and looks forward to being reunited with his sons! We are
extremely grateful to President Obama and hope that he continues to
grant commutations to others like Donel who are serving draconian
sentences for nonviolent drug crimes.”
These commutations follow a 2014 announcement by then-Deputy Attorney
General James Cole that the Obama administration wanted to grant
commutations to federal prisoners serving sentences that would, were
they handed down today, be significantly less onerous.
FAMM has advocated clemency for federal prisoners serving excessively
long mandatory minimums since its founding in 1991. And yet, clemency
is simply a means of triage. No number of commutations is an adequate
substitute for reforming federal mandatory minimum laws.
“I commend the president,” Stewart said, “but I’d also like to stress
that the problem his actions are trying to address can’t be solved by
the White House or the Department of Justice. Congress created these
mandatory minimums, and Congress needs to reform them.”
at 4:02 PM
Monday, March 23, 2015
Friday, March 20, 2015
Murder and rethinking juvenile sentencing: An interview with Rep. Dan Kagan
State Representative Daniel Kagan, D-Cherry Hills Village, has
introduced a bill to set a new range of sentences for juveniles
convicted of first degree murder. Under current Colorado law, juveniles
convicted of first degree murder face a sentence of life in prison with
the possibility of parole after 40 years. In an interview with Catherine
Strode, Representative Kagan says he believes Colorado’s juveniles
should be sentenced based not only on their crime but on their
individual characteristics and involvement in the crime they committed.
“For 16 years, we required every judge sentencing a juvenile who
had committed a first degree murder, to life without parole. They were
going to get life without parole regardless of how much they had been
abused during their childhood, regardless of how closely they were
involved in the crime. None of these things could be considered: the
background of the individual, the level of involvement in the crime. The
judge could not consider any of those things. He just had to give that
defendant, although juvenile, life without the possibility of parole.
And we did that for 16 years — until 2006. Then the law changed and all
these juveniles, when they committed their crimes, were sentenced to
life with the possibility of parole after 40 years. Now the Supreme
Court has said mandatory life without the possibility of parole is
unconstitutional to a juvenile; you have to consider the circumstances
of the crime and the circumstances of the criminal himself. This bill is
an attempt at a more just way of making the sentence fit the crime and
fit the offender.
at 6:14 AM
Monday, March 09, 2015
Mon. 3/9/15 – 1:30p - HB1240 (Reduce Student Contacts w/ Law Enforcement) in House Education
Tues. 3/10/15 – 1:30p - HB1087 (Medical Detox Pilots) in House PH&HS Committee
Sponsors: Representative Fields (D)
Status: House Education Committee – Mon. 3/9/15 at 1:30pm
Description: Encourages each school district to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding with law enforcement and sheriff’s departments to minimize unnecessary student contact related to disciplinary responses to school incidents.
Sponsors: Representatives Lebsock (D) and Tate (R)
CCJRC Position: Amend
Status: House Local Government Committee – Wed. 3/18/15 at 1:30pm
Description: Would allow 1st conviction for a misdemeanor to be eligible for sealing after 5 years from completion of sentence and if no additional criminal charges have been filed. There are some misdemeanor crimes that would not be eligible for sealing. The bill would increase the waiting time to 5 years for a municipal conviction when the underlying factual basis was domestic violence. There are now “dueling” record sealing bills – see HB 15-1061 described below.
Sponsors: Representatives Salazar (D) and Melton (D) & Senator Kefalas (D)
Status: House State, Veterans, and Military Affairs - Wed. 4/8/15 – Upon adjournment
Description: Establishes certain protected rights for persons’ experiencing homelessness and allows a person whose rights have been violated to seek enforcement of said rights through civil action.
Sponsors: Representative Salazar (D) & Senator Guzman (D)
Status: Assigned to the House Judiciary Committee
Description: Makes an exception to probation conditions to allow a person on probation to possess and use medical marijuana, unless the person has a conviction related to medical marijuana.
CCJRC Position: Priority- Active Support
Sponsors: Representative Foote (D) & Senator Cooke (R)
CCJRC Position: Oppose-Amend
Sponsors: Representative Van Winkle (R) & Senator Roberts (R)
CCJRC Position: Oppose-Amend
Sponsors: Representatives Saine (R) and McCann (D) & Senators Cooke (R) and Johnston (D)
Description: Creates a class four felony for DUI if the violation occurred: (1) after 3 or more prior convictions for DUI, DWAI, vehicular homicide, vehicular assault or any combination thereof; or (2) after 2 prior convictions, the current violation included at least one of the following circumstances: (a) a minor was in the vehicle (b) the person caused damage or injury to property or person; (c) the person fled the scene; or (d) the person’s BAC was .15 or higher. The bill also expands the timeline that a person must use an interlock device from one year to a minimum of 2 years and a maximum of 5 years.The bill, as amended, would allow someone convicted of a misdemeanor DUI to be eligible for placement in community corrections as a condition of probation to access residential treatment. Another amendment requires the court to “exhaust remedies” before sentencing someone to prison for a felony DUI. The 5-year cost for incarceration alone is estimated to be between $19 - $42 million.
CCJRC Position: Support
Sponsors: Representative Fields (D) & Senator Cooke (R)
CCJRC Position: Now neutral due to amendments made
Sponsors: Senator Steadman (D) & Representative Garnett (D)
CCJRC Position: Support
CCJRC Position: Monitor (doing more research before taking a formal position)
Description: Removes juvenile court jurisdiction over truancy petitions aimed at students and their parents, except in certain circumstances, and gives jurisdiction over truancy cases to the office of the administrative courts. There will be a “strike below” amendment that effectively would rewrite the entire bill. CCJRC is reviewing the amendment now.
CCJRC Position: Monitor (waiting to meet with bill sponsors before taking a formal position)
Status: Assigned to Senate Judiciary Committee
Description: Creates a community policing grant program to provide funding to local law enforcement agencies in conjunction with community-based organizations for innovative community policing practices. Tasks the Division of Criminal Justice (DCJ) to convene an advisory committee one year after grants are awarded to study the best practices used and outcomes of the grant program. The bill also requires each law enforcement agency, the Judicial Department, and the Department of Corrections to report specific data on race, ethnicity and gender related to stops, contacts, arrests, disposition of charges, sentencing, and parole hearings to the DCJ each calendar year. Data related to any officers involved in a shooting must also be provided to DCJ.
Sponsors: Senator Guzman (D) & Representative Willett (R)
CCJRC Position: Monitor (CCJJ recommendation)
Description: Establishes who must serve on a community corrections board and creates trainings standards/requirements for Board members. Requires DCJ to create and implement training standards for all Community Corrections Board Members. DCJ must also create an evaluation tool to measure the use of evidenced based practices across Community Corrections programs.
Sponsors:Senator Aguilar (D) & Representatives McCann (D) and Lontine (D)
CCJRC Position: Support (lead organization-Harm Reduction Action Center)
Status:Up for 3rd& final reading on the House floor – 3/9/15
Description: Would allow standing orders for naloxone so that first responders and direct service providers can distribute naloxone without a direct prescription. Naloxone is an opioid antagonist that can reverse the effects of an overdose and potentially save someone’s life if administered in time.
Sponsors: Senator Guzman (D) & Representative Kagan (D)
CCJRC Position: Support (lead organization: Colorado Criminal Defense Bar)
Status: House Judiciary Committee – Thurs. 3/19/15 at 1:30pm
Description: Requires all law enforcement agencies in Colorado to adopt policies and procedures related to eyewitness identification to comply with peer-reviewed, evidenced- based practices.
Sponsors: Representative Lontine (D) &Senator Merrifield (D)
CCJRC Position: Support (lead organization: Colorado Criminal Defense Bar)
CCJRC Position: Monitor
Sponsors: Senator Woods (R) & Representative Saine (R)
CCJRC Position: Support
at 11:37 AM
Tuesday, March 03, 2015
It’s time to tackle America’s jail problem
There’s not much the right and left agree on these days, but one notable exception seems to be criminal justice reform.Take President Obama’s budget proposal for 2016: arriving in the midst of a growing chorus of bipartisan support for alternatives to incarceration, he includes a community policing initiative and expanded pretrial diversion programs.
Conservatives should appreciate this; as Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said, “community corrections has an important role to play in promoting diversion and alternative sentencing models that promote public safety and prevent future generations from entering the criminal justice system.”
We also seem to agree that federal government intervention alone won’t cut it, because, as President Obama and Senator Portman both recognize, the problems with the criminal justice system start earlier, in local jails. Too many Americans are being deprived of their liberty, held in jail when they shouldn’t be, and the result is out-of-control local government spending on ineffective criminal justice systems—funds that could be better put to use elsewhere.
More than 70 major conservative leaders, including William Bennett, Newt Gingrich, Grover Norquist, Asa Hutchinson, and David Keene, have endorsed a Right on Crime statement of principles that argues that criminal justice systems ought to be subject to the same cost-benefit scrutiny applied to other government programs. Yet, the criminal justice systems in many local communities do not meet that test. Improving these systems will ease the strain on taxpayers and ensure that people are incarcerated only because they pose a public safety threat or are a flight risk.
Over the past three decades, spending related to building and running local jails has increased by 235 percent, a faster rate of growth than for nearly all other public services. Annual admissions into jails during that period nearly doubled to 11.7 million. The percentage of arrests that result in jail time jumped from 51 percent to 95 percent.
Three out of four people jailed today are there for nonviolent crimes. More than six out of ten have not been convicted of any crime. They are being held in jail for increasingly long periods while waiting until they finally get a trial or agree to plea bargain, unable to afford bails that may be as low as $250 or $500.
In the past 30 years, the average length of stay in local jails has increased by 64 percent. People land in jail for all sorts of reasons, like driving with a suspended license or not paying child support—a punishment that does not help people who are jailed to pay what they owe and provide for their families.
In Texas, where I live, some also serve out their fines in county jails, earning as little as $75 per day toward their debts. The system creates a modern day debtor’s prison, keeping those who are locked up from finding employment to better settle their debts, support their families, and contribute productively to local economies.
Jails also hold people who would be better, and more economically, served elsewhere. Six out of ten people in jail report symptoms of mental illness, and two-thirds suffer from substance abuse or dependence. Jails are not set up to provide treatment and should not be asked to do the job that professional community services can provide.
Jailing non-violent offenders as the first option actually is counterproductive in many cases and can lead to more serious crime. Someone unnecessarily held in jail can’t get to their job and may lose it as a result. He can’t take care of his children. She may not be able to keep up with her rent or other bills. He may be cut off from mental health or addiction treatment he normally would go to. Before long, he may be facing unemployment, homelessness, break-up of his family, or aggravated addiction problems, and that in turn may lead to more serious crime and longer incarceration—a ripple effect that increases state and federal prison spending.
The good news is that local communities are adopting more effective approaches in line with American values. In Texas, there are several efforts underway to provide alternatives to jail. Bexar County has set up a 24-hour crisis center that lowers the burden on jails. Houston’s police direct people arrested on marijuana-related charges to complete a 9 hour class or 8 hours of community service, a practice that will strengthen the city and divert about 2,000 people a year from jail. Lubbock has been implementing victim-offender mediation for decades, giving victims and their families the closure that long delays in the criminal justice system don’t provide.
Local officials who are looking for resources to plan and implement these kinds of improvements now have the benefit of the new Safety and Justice Challenge, a $75 million investment in justice reform from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, that will focus on reducing incarceration in jails, reducing repeat offenses, and holding offenders accountable. This comes in the midst of an emergence of “unlikely alliances” committed to making real changes in our criminal justice system at the local, state, and national levels. Newt Gingrich and Van Jones, the ACLU and Grover Norquist, the Koch Brothers–they represent a real bipartisan movement toward reform.
The time is ripe for change. Improving local criminal justice systems will ultimately reduce costs for households and government alike, and better align our actions with our values of liberty, personal responsibility, and the potential for rehabilitation.
We should seize this moment of collaboration and the availability of the best ideas and real investment across the ideological spectrum and put it to work in our communities. When local leaders step forward and work together, they will deliver a far better return on taxpayers’ investments in public safety.
at 9:24 AM