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.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Sentencing Commission Needed

Don Quick wrote this article about why we need a sentencing commission in Colorado. His points are not only valid but on the mark. My concern is the make up of the commission itself. I believe that a commission must be set up that evaluates current practices, but the people at the table need to understand the population that they are dealing with. Community must be involved if a truly holistic approach is going to work.

Those who set policy and procedure need to understand what works in different communities. A one-size-fits-all policy isn't practical when you are dealing with the diversity and richness of culture that is Colorado. The bridge between system and community has often been non-existent and only recently has begun a fragile attempt at working together to solve the problems that we must address. That bridge must be strengthened in order for a sentencing commission to be successful and that strength will only be attained if everyone involved is allowed a voice in the process. A commission is more than it's mission, it's about who is at the table that maks it real, effective, and ultimately successful.

The other aspect that isn't addressed is the fact that the sentencing commission will address things in the longer term, but we what are we going to do right now? Today, we have 500 people who are out-of-state in private prisons and thousands who are past their parole eligibility date sitting inside. Private prisons companies are hovering over Colorado like vultures waiting to take advantage of the overcrowding crisis that is happening right now. Something needs to come down the pike to make significant change in current policy or statute.

Colorado's prison population has grown at a significant rate over the last two decades. Although violent crime decreased as the prison population increased, the prison population has reached crisis levels. Our prisons are filled to capacity and we do not have the resources to build endless new prisons. Prison overcrowding is a serious problem. Something needs to be done.

If you examine who is actually in our state prisons, you will see that inmates are the violent or repeat offenders. Prisons serve a critical public safety need by protecting our communities from such offenders. But incarceration alone cannot be our only solution. In order to address prison overcrowding, we must intervene with future defendants before prison is their only option. An increased focus on prevention programs, intervention programs and re-entry programs, as well as reviewing our sentencing practices, are the best ways to address this growing crisis.

Let's begin with sentencing. Some have proposed the creation of a sentencing commission to make recommendations for cutting sentences and releasing prisoners. I agree that such a commission should be created, but its mandate should be broad. Such a commission must undertake a comprehensive review of Colorado's sentencing practices.

the Denver Post editorial

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