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.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Legislative Priorities

— The Colorado State Legislature has begun, and there is no doubt that important issues will be discussed.

There are severance taxes and energy impact dollars.

There is education funding and constitutional conflicts.

There are funding needs and TABOR to work through.

But when you look at your priority list, dearest members of our Legislature, do not forget the following need: funding for mental health care.

Political lip service citing how important this issue is can only take us so far.

In the end, funding, or the lack of it, signifies how real the problem is to our state’s political leaders.

Do not take this wrong. There have been some positive steps to looking at the issue.

In July, Colorado first lady Jeannie Ritter, who is Gov. Bill Ritter’s better half, visited Craig and other places around state to discuss problems that rural communities face in regards to mental health.

She heard community members — ranging from law enforcement and nonprofit agencies to health care and education — cite the Pandora’s box that mental health issues present. A snippet of problems that Northwest Colorado faces include:

• Suicide rates have been on the rise, and community members of Moffat County might be embarrassed about admitting to having a problem; and, therefore, do not seek help.

• Sixty percent to 70 percent of the Moffat County Jail’s inmates suffer from a mental health disorder or substance abuse problem.

• There are unbudgeted expenses that are incurred by the community for various mental issues.

• There are inadequate facilities to tackle some of the mental health issues.

• There is not enough mental health providers in the area and virtually no treatment programs.

Perhaps Lt. Dean Herndon, administrator of the Moffat County Jail, said it best at the meeting: “Money is a big issue.”

But where have we gone from there?

Colorado still ranks 49th in the nation in mental health funding. Ritter has done her part giving the issue public awareness.

Now, it is up to the Legislature, and if not them, the voters, to find the resources to deal with it.

Is there a way to create a funding base to deal with mental health issues? Is it possible to tax alcohol or other vices to help pay for some of the problems they can create? If such a tax is created, what promises do the Colorado residents have that such funds will stay with mental health and will not be diverted.

These questions, and others to help deal with mental health problems, must be addressed.

Yes, we have other problems that must be dealt with, but mental health must be on that list.

It’s been seemingly ignored for too long. In the long run, healthy minds will lead to a healthier state, financially and physically.

CRAIG Daily Press