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, October 21, 2009

Clemency Could Save Millions. Why Won't The Governor Try It?

Among Governor Bill Ritter's hits and misses, few actions have drawn as much criticism as his proposal to release thousands of inmates months earlier than originally planned, thereby cutting millions of dollars from the state's overstressed budget.
The announcement sent convulsions of anxiety through Colorado's crime-control industry. Police chiefs braced for waves of thugs hitting the streets. A criminologist predicted a sharp spike in the crime rate, including an upswing in "heinous" crimes. Private prison contractors groused about lost business and possible layoffs. Last month a Denver Post article shrieked that the governor's early-release list included a cop-killer — who was within a few weeks of mandatory release, anyway. And last week, Republican lawmakers demanded that Ritter end the "disastrous" program, even though it had scarcely begun.
Actually, Ritter's plan barely qualifies as "early release" at all. Only a small percentage of state inmates receive discretionary parole anymore. The vast majority serve out their sentences right up to their mandatory release date, then have a mandatory period of parole to complete on top of that. Although the Colorado Department of Corrections routinely deducts "earned time" of a few days each month, violent offenders are required to serve at least 75 percent of their original sentence.
Ritter's plan excludes sex offenders, targets inmates who are already six months or less from getting out, and would still require screening by the Colorado Board of Parole, which can — and often does — deny early release to violent offenders. The plan is a candle lit under a glacier, a slight nudge to a massive, overstuffed prison system that's draining an ever-increasing share of state resources while lawmakers dawdle over sentencing reform proposals.
The alarm and outrage that greeted even this modest cost-cutting measure is a good indication of what the governor is up against as he tries to get a handle on the DOC's $700 million-a-year budget, which has swelled at an average rate of 10 percent a year for the past two decades. No politician can afford to appear soft on crime — not even a former prosecutor who, in his gubernatorial campaign, vowed to control soaring prison costs by launching new programs that would lower recidivism.
Ironically, the governor has a powerful weapon in his arsenal when it comes to getting people out of prison early, one that requires no legislative approval. Properly applied, it can save money, address inequities in the justice system and transform the sentencing reform debate. But it's politically risky, and Ritter has declined to use it to any real effect in his first three years in office.
It's called clemency. The state constitution gives the governor "the power to grant reprieves, commutations and pardons" for all crimes except treason. It's a tool that Ritter's predecessors have wielded, sometimes boldly, to free particular prisoners or shorten their sentences, to correct injustices or reward people who have turned their lives around while incarcerated, or to wipe the slate clean years after youthful bad behavior. Clemency used to be a routine part of being Colorado's governor, like cutting ribbons and wearing a cowboy hat, but in recent decades the option has been exercised less and less.


Mary-Ellen, Mimi, Jason said...

Yes, of course clemency has been reduced. It didn't fit into the overall plan of mass incarceration to fulfill corporate needs. Maybe now that economics have forced a realistic look at the facts of mass incarceration there can be a set number of inmates per year that have to be released via a legislative decree. A percentage of the total incarcerated would be a start. For example, one percent annually would be selected from inmates that qualify due to completion of courses that qualify them for entering the world of business, education, or trade. Other criteria applicable might be required courses in ethics and human behavior, courses that would require self discovery and develop self-esteem. Their existing record would be evaluated by a professional team of non-DOC experts.

Anonymous said...

Jason...the plan looks great on paper but DOC purposely lacks the programs needed to just be be discretionarily paroled. The DOC has no vested interest in releasing people early or having them succeed once they are paroled. Their spending has been and is still out of control with families still bearing the brunt of the costs in phone calls and canteen costs.

Parole can require them to attend programs on the outside and they are much more likely to do so. I think that if they are eligible for community corrections or parole, have been working while in prison and have had no serious (violent) write ups, then they should be paroled to ISP supervision. Studies have shown early releases reduce the recidivism rate just because someone believed in them and gave them a chance.

Mary-Ellen, Mimi, Jason said...

"The DOC purposely lacks," "The DOC has no vested interest," Yes, it does look good on paper. Certainly wish there wasn't such a "Catch 22." Commuting a sentence would be redundant if an inmate has already reached his/her parole date. Early release as it is being touted today, (an inmate is out in six weeks anyway, so they let him out six weeks early)is lip service. CCJRC is trying and has had successes. Guess its a waiting game, to see who is put into office in future elections.

Anonymous said...

It appears to be about money for the DOC. Inmates are incarcerated until their MRDs, or released a couple of days early and then required to spend years on parole. An inmate with a five-year sentence can expect to serve about four years-seven months and then complete two or three more years on parole; a total of SEVEN OR EIGHT YEARS FOR A FIVE-YEAR SENTENCE.

When the inmate is released on ISP, he immediately has an ankle bracelet put on and has a curfew of 5:00 PM. He is allowed out of his house for eight or nine hours per day for appointments, UAs, job hunting, grocery shopping, obtaining a driver license, reporting to parole officers, etc. It is essentially "house arrest" after completing their sentences.
Most parolees are not allowed to drive at first so they must depend either on public transportation or friends or family, who also have work constraints, which makes getting to appointments all the more difficult.

Parole officers set up the parolees for failure with the incredible restrictions placed on them. Mandatory parole needs to be abolished. The inmate has served his full sentence in prison! Mandatory parole is an employment tool for DOC -- it keeps a lot of people employed at a cost of millions of dollars to the State of Colorado!

Anonymous said...

The comments are all very good. The people who say we need to get rid of mandatory parole is the real answer to saving the state millions of dollars while ending an era of double jeopardy which makes the state guilty of slavery and extortion. Of course sentencing reform would really help as well. Incarcerating people for non violent offenses for long periods of time leaves the inmate with little hope and makes bad inmates out of otherwise gentle people.djw