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.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Scott "Fear Factor" Mcinnis Is Very Concerned About YOUR Safety


Scott "Fear Factor" McInnis is very, very concerned about your safety

Governor Bill Ritter's modest proposal to parole hundreds of inmates a few weeks or months before their mandatory release date, thereby cutting millions from the state budget, has become the political whipping boy for his most opportunistic critics, from GOP legislators to Weld County District Attorney (and Senate candidate) Ken Buck to the hand-wringing editorial board over at the Denver Post.

But nobody has stomped on the issue with more enthusiasm than gubernatorial opponent Scott McInnis. In the latest in a series of blasts denouncing the early release plan, Sheriff Scotty accuses the guv of fostering "a clear threat to public safety."

Bar the door and pass the ammo, son. The streets just ain't safe no more.

It's true that Ritter's plan is flawed. He assured folks he wouldn't be letting killers and sex offenders out early, and the Post's Kirk Mitchell has reported that several names on the early release list would suggest otherwise. But in the politically motivated hysteria surrounding the plan, it's easy to lose sight of the fact that these are people who are getting out of the system anyway. In some cases, they're only coming out a few days or a couple of weeks earlier, and it's hard to make a crime wave out of that.

In fact, Ritter's plan hardly qualifies as "early" release. The state used to routinely reward prisoners who demonstrated good behavior with discretionary parole, but only a small percentage of inmates get that any more. 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. A good hunk of them end up back inside for parole failures, a dismal statistic explored at length in my 2006 feature "Over and Over Again."

Ritter's plan targets offenders who are within six months of mandatory release. Shaving a few weeks off their sentences is unlikely to have a dramatic impact on the crime rate -- unless you release thousands at once. That's not happening. The Colorado Parole Board routinely turns down violent offenders for early release. McInnis claims that "the Governor is overriding the Parole Board," but he presents no evidence that's happening. Actually, the plan is being criticized in part because the board is denying so many early releases it's doubtful that much in the way of savings will be realized.

So what we're left with is a lot of fear-mongering about a timid plan. And the more promising part of the budget-cutting, the part that involves letting parolees who are doing well complete their parole early, gets no mention at all. That's a shame, because there's a case to be made for cost savings by shortening the lengthy mandatory parole period for those who have demonstrated that they can function well in the community. Among other benefits, reducing the length of the parole period reduces the chance that someone who is otherwise doing well will commit a technical violation, such as missing a curfew, that could land them back in prison.

One of the recent beneficiaries of the parole termination plan is Casey Holden, the subject of my blog series "I Shall Be Released." After a decade spent mostly behind bars, including four years in lockdown, Holden got out of prison in early 2007 with few prospects. But he refused to become a statistic. He found a crummy job, then a better one. He paid restitution, stayed clean, fulfilled the other conditions of his parole, started a family. As a reward, his parole has ended three months earlier than scheduled.
That's good for him -- and good for the taxpayer. Now his former parole officer can devote more attention to those hardcore felons who are getting out on parole a few days earlier than they would otherwise.


Anonymous said...

Thank you Alan for your insightful and thoughtful column. We families all know what a dismal failure mandatory continues to be. Colorado would save a lot more money if the Parole Board went back to "routinely" granting discretionary parole and got rid of mandatory parole. DOC's own stats show discretionary parole has a lower recidivism rate than mandatory parole, probably because of the reward factor of getting out early.

The fear-mongerers like Scott McGinnis and Joe Penry need to stop the media manipulation to get the public excited over nothing. We need to release people early and end mandatory parole. It is only working to line the pockets for the for profit prison industry. And Congrats to Casey Holden for being on of the few Successful statistics!

Anonymous said...

At first I was angry with the parole board for turning down nearly 80% of the inmates who could qualify for the early release. Now I think it is a good thing because it will force sentence reform as the only way to reduce the prison population. The inmates will not be at the mercy of the parole boards decisions, and it won’t be so easy to go back to business as usual once the economy improves.

Anonymous said...

Oh and there are a lot of us families who KNOW that there were much better candidates to release besides the 10 that garnered so much media attention. We think that it was done on purpose to stir public outcry. We all know these people were not the best of the bunch but the worst. If people aren't getting released because of BS write ups within DOC, then that needs to be changed. The COPD violations are ridiculous and are often used by crooked CO's to punish Offenders. Written up, found guilty and punished with no real evidence...and all by the DOC. It's also unfair that the Parole Board uses programs as a reason to release or keep someone. THERE ARE NO PROGRAMS. These guys would be better off on the outside where they can get REAL help.

Anonymous said...

The article states Mr. Ritters plan was flawed. Not true. What made it see so was Zavaras and Michauds activitys.
Remember Gov Ritter said, NON VIOLENT offenders to be released early. My god, Colorado has thousands of them waiting.
I say fire both Michaud and Zavaras for not following the orders of there leader.Isnt insubordination by a public official at least a misdeamener.djw