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.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

It's time to tackle america's jail problem

Right On Crime

It’s time to tackle America’s jail problem

Marc Levin describes the impetus behind the new right-left alliance on criminal justice reform at FoxNews.com.
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.
MARC A. LEVIN is Right on Crime’s Policy Director, as well as the Director of the Center for Effective Justice at the Texas Public Policy Foundation.  Based in Austin, Texas, Levin is an attorney and an accomplished author on legal and public policy issues.  Levin served as a law clerk to Judge Will Garwood on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and Staff Attorney at the Texas Supreme Court.  In 1999, he graduated with honors from the University of Texas with a B.A. in Plan II Honors and Government.  In 2002, Levin received his J.D. with honors from the University of Texas School of Law.  Levin’s articles on law and public policy have been featured in national and international media outlets that regularly turn to him for conservative analysis of states’ criminal justice challenges.

Federa Fair Chance Hiring Report


Saturday, February 28, 2015

CCJRC Weekly Legislative Update


How Portugal Brilliantly Ended the War on Drugs

In the 1990s, Portugal was faced with a drug epidemic. General drug use wasn’t any worse than neighboring countries, but rates of problematic drug use were off the charts. A 2001 survey found that 0.7 percent of its population had used heroin at least one time, the second highest rate after England and Wales in Europe. So, in 1998, Portugal appointed a special commission of doctors, lawyers, psychologists, and activists to assess the problem and propose policy recommendations. Following eight months of analysis, the commission advised the government to embark on a radically different approach.
Rather than respond as many governments have, with zero-tolerance legislation and an emphasis on law enforcement, the commission suggested the decriminalization of all drugs, coupled with a focus on prevention, education, and harm-reduction. The objective of the new policy was to reintegrate the addict back into the community, rather than isolate them in prisons, the common approach by many governments. Two years later, Portugal’s government passed the commission’s recommendations into law.
Just as important as the specific policies recommended by the commission is an entirely different philosophy. Rather than treating addiction as a crime, it’s treated as a medical condition. João Goulão, Portugal’s top drug official, emphasizes that the goal of the new policy is to fight the disease, not the patients.
Decriminalization doesn’t mean legalization.
Legalization removes all criminal penalties for producing, selling, and possessing drugs whereas decriminalization eliminates jail time for drug users, but dealers are still criminally prosecuted. Roughly 25 countries have removed criminal penalties for the possession of small amounts of certain or all drugs. No country has attempted full legalization.

Friday, February 27, 2015

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Would we be safer if fewer were jailed?

The New York Times
Jails in New York and throughout the country dealing with overcrowding and brutality, are often filled with inmates who might not need to even be incarcerated. Some of them are awaiting trial for nonviolent offenses, others have mental health needs.
Can the use of jails be reformed to reduce the number of inmates without increasing society’s risks?

Monday, February 09, 2015

CCJRC at the 2015 Martin Luther King Marade

Watch the video from the 2015 Martin Luther King Marade

Thursday, January 08, 2015

The Overcriminalization of America


How to reduce poverty and improve race relations by rethinking our justice system.

As Americans, we like to believe the rule of law in our country is respected and fairly applied, and that only those who commit crimes of fraud or violence are punished and imprisoned. But the reality is often different. It is surprisingly easy for otherwise law-abiding citizens to run afoul of the overwhelming number of federal and state criminal laws. This proliferation is sometimes referred to as “overcriminalization,” which affects us all but most profoundly harms our disadvantaged citizens.

Overcriminalization has led to the mass incarceration of those ensnared by our criminal justice system, even though such imprisonment does not always enhance public safety. Indeed, more than half of federal inmates are nonviolent drug offenders. Enforcing so many victimless crimes inevitably leads to conflict between our citizens and law enforcement. As we have seen all too often, it can place our police officers in harm’s way, leading to tragic consequences for all involved.

How did we get in this situation? It began with well-intentioned lawmakers who went overboard trying to solve perceived or actual problems. Congress creates, on average, more than 50 new criminal laws each year. Over  time, this has translated into more than 4,500 federal criminal laws spread across 27,000 pages of the United States federal code. (This number does not include the thousands of criminal penalties in federal regulations.) As a result, the United States is the world’s largest jailer—first in the world for total number imprisoned and first among industrialized nations in the rate of incarceration. The United States represents about 5 percent of the world’s population but houses about 25 percent of the world’s prisoners.
We have paid a heavy price for mass incarceration and could benefit by reversing this trend. It has been estimated that at least 53 percent of those entering prison were living at or below the U.S. poverty line when their sentence began. Incarceration leads to a 40 percent decrease in annual earnings, reduced job tenure and higher unemployment. A Pew Charitable Trust study revealed that two-thirds of former inmates with earnings in the bottom fifth upon release in 1986 remained at or below that level 20 years later. A Villanova University study concluded that “had mass incarceration not occurred, poverty would have decreased by more than 20 percent, or about 2.8 percentage points” and “several million fewer people would have been in poverty in recent years.”

African-Americans, who make up around 13 percent of the U.S. population but account for almost 40 percent of the inmates, are significantly affected by these issues. According to Harvard sociologist Bruce Western: “Prison has become the new poverty trap. It has become a routine event for poor African-American men and their families, creating an enduring disadvantage at the very bottom of American society.”
Reversing overcriminalization and mass incarceration will improve societal well-being in many respects, most notably by decreasing poverty. Today, approximately 50 million people (about 14 percent of the population) are at or below the U.S. poverty rate. Fixing our criminal system could reduce the overall poverty rate as much as 30 percent, dramatically improving the quality of life throughout society—especially for the disadvantaged.

To bring about such a transformation, we must all set aside partisan politics and collaborate on solutions. That is why we have partnered with the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers for more than 10 years to bring about positive changes in our justice system.

We support a five-step approach to criminal justice reform:

First, “do no more harm.” Legislators must resist the temptation to criminalize activities that do not fit a common-sense understanding of what is a “crime.” Criminal laws should not impose liability if the accused did not knowingly and willfully intend to commit the bad act. This explosion of criminal laws has led to imposing liability on activities that ordinary citizens would have no reason to believe would be criminal such as converting a wild donkey into a private donkey, bathing in the Arkansas Hot Springs National Park without a doctor’s note, and agreeing to take mail to the post office but not dropping it off. It has led to criminal liability for amateur arrowhead collectors who had no idea their hobby could be a federal crime, as well as criminal charges and a conviction for a former Indianapolis 500 champion who got lost while snowmobiling during a blizzard and unwittingly ended up on federal land.

Second, we must address prosecutorial abuses—especially in the discovery and grand jury processes. Even the late Senator Ted Stevens fell victim to prosecutorial abuse in his trial when during the discovery process, federal prosecutors systematically concealed evidence that supported the senator’s defense and testimony. Prosecutors must disclose all evidence favorable to the accused to ensure that every American should be treated equally and fairly under the law, whether the accused is a disadvantaged urban teenager or a wealthy corporate executive.

Third, we must ensure that all those charged with a crime receive their Sixth Amendment right to representation by a lawyer. Inadequate or no legal representation results in devastating consequences for criminal defendants and their families.

Fourth, end unduly harsh sentences and resulting disparities by eliminating mandatory minimum sentences that dictate punishment unrelated to the nature or harm of the underlying crime and facts. We must honor the ideal of the punishment fitting the crime by allowing judges to exercise discretion.

Finally, after a sentence is served, we should restore all rights to youthful and non-violent offenders, such as those involved in personal drug use violations. If ex-offenders can’t get a job, education or housing, how can we possibly expect them to have a productive life? And why should we be surprised when more than half of the people released from prison are again incarcerated within three years of their release?
Hopefully, every lawmaker and committed citizen will support these proposed reforms.  Overcriminalization leads to mass incarceration, undermines race relations and ultimately keeps more people in poverty. We believe the proposed reforms will improve well-being for all Americans, especially the most disadvantaged.

2015 Denver MLK Marade

The Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition will participate in the Martin Luther King, Jr. Marade on January 19, 2015. We would like to invite you to participate with us by walking in with CCJRC in the Marade!
         “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”
                                                                   Martin Luther King Jr.
Invitation to participate!
  1. We encourage individual and organization participation; if you belong to an organization please feel free to bring your organizations’ banner.
  2. Please invite members, staff, volunteer, etc. from you organization.
  3. Consider wearing all black clothing as CCJRC and several other advocacy partners have chosen to wear all black clothing and march in solidarity of the national campaign #ICANTBREATHE - #BLACKLIVESMATTER , opposing police brutality and the overrepresentation of people of color in the Criminal Justice System.
CCJRC Marade participation instructions!
  1. CCJRC will meet at the cannon statue site in City Park at 9:00 a.m.
  2. The cannon statue is located between Duck Lake and the MLK statue in the southwest part of the park between 18th and 20th Ave.
  3. Look for the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition banner.
  4. We will then proceed to the MLK memorial statue at 9:30 a.m. for the start of the Marade opening program at 10 a.m.
  5. The Marade formation will begin immediately following the 10 a.m. program.
  6. The Marade step-off will start at 10:45 a.m. sharp with participants marching together to Civic Center Park.
The Official MLK Marade route!
The Marade will proceed south out of City Park by way of Esplanade St. to Colfax Avenue; then west on Colfax Avenue to Sherman St into the State Capitol grounds; south to Broadway to Civic Center Park. Motorized vehicles will proceed south on Broadway to 14th Ave. The Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. program immediately follows the Marade, in Civic Center Park’s Greek Theater. The Total Distance Equals 5K.
Please contact Juston Cooper Juston@ccjrc.org if you have any questions regarding participating with CCJRC in the 2015 MLK Marade.