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, March 31, 2010

Officials Answer Questions at Sunday Afternoon Forum

Chaffee County Times
District 5 State Sen. Gail Schwartz (D-Snowmass Village) speaks at a public forum Sunday afternoon, March 28, at the Buena Vista Community Center. About 45 people attended. Others speaking at the forum are, from left, District 16 State Sen. Dan Gibbs (D-Silverthorne); Karl Spiecker, Colorado Department of Corrections Director of Finance and Administration; Robert Cantwell, DOC Director of Prison Operations; and Chris Thompson of Salida, representative of the Colorado WINS labor union coalition. The panel answered questions from attendees. Topics included the Colorado Outfitters Viability Act (HB 1188), the Colorado Clean Air Act (HB 1365), the closing of the boot camp at Buena Vista Correctional Complex and regulation of medical-marijuana dispensaries.

Schwartz said HB 1188 is set to undergo more study and then will go before a house/senate conference committee.

"We'll do our best to figure out where to go from here," Schwartz said about the bill. She said there is "a fairly long process still ahead ... I don't know what will happen." She said the bill is a good one.

"My commitment has been with the rafting industry," she said, and added that the bill protects property owners.

Gibbs, who said he grew up in Gunnison and is a former rafting guide, urged those attending the forum to stay involved in the issue and to let legislators know what they think.

Spiecker, in response to a question about prison-inmate recidivism, which he said averages about 53 percent in the Colorado prison system, said Colorado's is "a very, very progressive prison system" and said its goal is "to put a better product before the parole board."

In response to a question from Keith Baker, who serves on the Town of Buena Vista Board of Trustees, about the roles of state and municipal government in dealing with medical-marijuana dispensaries, Schwartz said she sees the regulation of the dispensaries as a local-control issue.

Restaurant owner with connections gets 18 months in prison - The Denver Post

Restaurant owner with connections gets 18 months in prison - The Denver Post

Over the objections of federal drug agents who thought the sentence too light, Thornton restaurateur Dan Tang was ordered Wednesday to serve 18 months in prison for funding a major marijuana grow operation.

Chief U.S. District Judge Wiley Y. Daniel decided Tang's crimes were too serious to grant a probationary sentence requested by his defense attorneys who cited his mental and physical ailments as mitigating factors.

Tang, the 47-year-old owner of the Heaven Dragon restaurant wept throughout the sentencing hearing and appeared contrite as he addressed the judge in both English and his native Cantonese.

"I am very remorseful for all the past wrongs I have committed," Tang said. "I know I have done a big, big wrong. Big mistake. It jeopardized all my family members and it also affected my society, my community."

In November, he pleaded guilty to money laundering and was ordered to forfeit $1 million in cash to the government.

In exchange, prosecutors agreed to recommend a sentence of 11 to 30 months, which is below the guideline range for his offense which typically carries a term of 70 to 87 months in prison.

Before sentencing, Daniel asked prosecutor Stephanie Podolak why she agreed Tang should receive a sentence below the recommended federal sentencing guidelines.

There was speculation Tang is cooperating with investigators on a corruption investigation because he was tipped off by a law enforcement officer about the oncoming marijuana raid in a letter.

However, Colorado U.S. Attorney spokesman Jeff Dorschner said Tang does not know the source of the letter he received and is not involved in an ongoing investigation related to the source of the leak.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

New Law Gives Coloradoan Ex Cons A Better Chance At a Job

Biz Journal
Much attention was given to Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter’s public signing of a law Monday that will ban gender discrimination in the setting of individual insurance rates. But it was a little-known bill that he signed in private that might have an even bigger impact on the business community.
House Bill 1023, sponsored by Rep. Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs, prohibits an employee’s criminal history from being part of a lawsuit against a business unless that criminal history has direct applicability to the legal action. Legislators thought so highly of a measure that could lead more businesses to offer jobs to prior felons that not a single one of them voted against it.
The bill came from the interim Economic Opportunity Poverty Reduction Task Force, of which Waller was a member and served as chairman for the economic development and job creation subcommittee. It was there that he learned businesses often won’t hire people with criminal records, no matter how long they’ve been clean or how unrelated those histories are to the jobs for which they’re applying, for fear of getting sued if that worker does anything wrong.
To use Waller’s example, if a business now hires a released felon to wash windows and that employee gets into a fight with someone walking down the street, the victim can sue the business, saying it was negligent in hiring someone who could be a danger to the public. Never mind that the felony might have been corporate tax evasion; the onus still rests on the business’ head when it comes to prior felons.
This, as you might guess, left a lot of people looking for second chances with even less willing takers and made businesses leery of hiring someone who otherwise might be a good fit. And Waller wanted to give prior felons a chance while protecting businesses from lawsuits.
So, HB 1023 prohibits information concerning a criminal’s history from being introduced in civil actions if the employee’s record is sealed, the employee got a pardon, the criminal history isn’t related to the facts of the case or the employee’s record is from an arrest or charge that did not result in a criminal conviction. Even Ritter, a former prosecutor, could see the merits in that.
This doesn’t let a business off the hook if, say, one were to hire someone convicted of breaking and entering to install alarms in homes and that employee then turns around and robs one of those homes. That actually would be negligent hiring by the business, Waller said.
But it could have at least a small impact both on the high unemployment rate and on businesses who have been hit by the recession and are looking for any financial reason — such as fear of a lawsuit — not to hire, Waller said.
“If we can protect business owners who are willing to take a chance on these guys, we should do that,” Waller said. “In these times when we haven’t done much for business, any little thing we can do for business is a good thing.”

Colorado prison populations predicted to get smaller - The Denver Post

Colorado prison populations predicted to get smaller - The Denver Post

In 2006, state researchers estimated Colorado's prisons would be bursting with 29,443 inmates by 2013.

Now it appears they were off by nearly 8,000 prisoners — off in a good way. Fresher predictions say Colorado will hold only 21,662 people in 2013, part of a steady decline in prison populations nationwide that defies previous recession trends and underlines a systemic decrease in crime.

Those now-nonexistent prisoners would empty the Limon prison eight times over.

Instead of property and drug crime rising with high unemployment and economic desperation, crime rates and incarcerations continue a steady decline. Anti-recidivism efforts by Gov. Bill Ritter and governors in other states appear to be gaining traction in keeping repeat offenders away from expensive prison cells.

"It's an absolutely fascinating period for researchers, because of the break in the pattern we're seeing," said Rick Rosenfeld, a University of Missouri-St. Louis criminologist and president of the American Society of Criminology. "And it's an absolutely heartening period for all of us, because of public safety."

Gov. Bill Ritter and budget officials say the state is already reaping benefits, aside from falling crime rates, through a long-awaited reprieve from constant budget increases. Part of Ritter's February package of deficit-closing proposals included $19.4 million in corrections savings due to lower-than-expected prisoner counts.

At a cost of about $20,000 a year to house a Colorado prisoner, the prisoner shortfall means the state would be spending at least $160 million less than predicted to hold prisoners in 2013.

Ritter, a former Denver prosecutor, said he has watched the number of state prisoners balloon from 3,000 when he began his career in 1981 to beyond 20,000 and to predictions of nearly 30,000 in coming years. The recent drop in projections means "we're doing a lot of things right," Ritter said.

An aging population, smarter recidivism programs, drug courts and parole reforms all contribute to the improvement, he said. The knee-jerk, lock-them-up mentality of politicians and the public has also transformed, Ritter said.

Colorado's crime rate dropped 8 percent in 2008, the third time it had dropped since 2005.

"People have come to understand the intersections with drug addiction and mental-health issues," he said. Ritter added, though, that putting more violent criminals away in the 1980s and '90s also improved crime rates and community stability.

Release program fizzled

State officials and national criminologists emphasize that the Colorado improvements have not come through wholesale early releases of prisoners to cut budgets, as other fiscally challenged states have done. Ritter did propose speeding up the planned releases of some felons last fall, but the program fizzled. Police and others objected to freeing violent offenders even weeks earlier than required, and parole-board decisions have left most terms alone.

Colorado released only three prisoners slightly earlier than mandated in February, and 270 since the fall, said Department of Corrections spokeswoman Katherine Sanguinetti.

Despite periodic national flare-ups over prisoner releases, statistics are moving steadily toward lower crime and increased emphasis on anti-recidivism and drug-treatment programs, said Adam Gelb of the Pew Center on the States in Washington, D.C. Nationally, state prisons held nearly 6 percent fewer people on Jan. 1 than the year before.

Lawmakers and the public are finally "in favor of more aggressive strategies that can protect public safety without sinking more and more state funds into prison," Gelb said.

Researchers point to a few clear trends as they analyze Colorado crime numbers and national recession trends:

• Criminals literally growing up are a major part of Colorado's shift to lower crime rates and fewer prisoners. Men ages 19 to 39 commit the largest number of crimes, and growth in that age group has slowed recently in Colorado.

• Drug courts, alternative sentencing and avoiding "technical" violations to parole or probation that can result in prison terms have all lowered recidivism rates and new sentences.

• Crime has not spiked alongside the economic crisis, countering previous recession trends that pushed up property crime, drug sales and even some violent crime.

Criminologist Rosenfeld said analysts are considering a handful of explanations: Methamphetamine use is down, and no other drug has taken up the crime-promoting role of crack in the late 1980s and early '90s; unusually high unemployment means more people are home protecting their houses and neighborhoods; smarter, more targeted policing methods; and stimulus money that propped up local policing budgets.

• Colorado legislation in 2009 increased "good time" credits for some prisoners, allowing more to leave 30 to 60 days before their mandatory release date. Supporters say the practice has proved to be a major incentive for behavior change in prisoners.

Corrections and budget officials are still assessing whether declining prisoner numbers are short blips or lasting trends, both in Colorado and nationwide. They worry criminals will find a new drug, that crime rates will flatten out or rise, that the recession will last long enough to make more people desperate.

Women's prison closed

Their budgets and planning, though, are already adjusting. Colorado's latest revisions will save $10.1 million from inmate reduction, $2.3 million on lower parole caseloads, and $6.1 million in prison medical care. Less demand made it possible to close a "boot camp" operation at Buena Vista, saving nearly another $1 million.

The female prison population has dropped much more quickly than men's, allowing Colorado to shutter the Colorado Women's Correctional Facility in Cañon City, Sanguinetti said. Colorado may need less space overall but will have to find new kinds of space for an aging prison population and a safer segregation of violent offenders.

To that end, next year's corrections budget includes an increase in staff and opening a recently completed high-security tower at Colorado State Penitentiary II.

"Until this last 18 months, the prison population had grown for decades," Sanguinetti said. "This is the first time it's occurred, and we understand it could reverse at any time."

Key to pushing the numbers down further is continuing expansion of drug-treatment alternatives, mental-health care, and proven policing strategies of the kind that have sharply reduced auto-theft rates, Ritter said. He also wants stronger job-training efforts during convicts' prison time and new strategies to help private employers hire former felons upon release.

While every governor in America is now asked whether he fears a "Willie Horton" moment — a parolee gone rogue that inflames public opinion — Ritter said he believes the public is now more receptive to prison alternatives backed by research and results.

In a democracy founded on concepts of liberty, Ritter said, "criminal-justice policy should always be open for discussion."

Michael Booth: 303-954-1686 or mbooth@denverpost.com

Read more: http://www.denverpost.com/ci_14782457#ixzz0jfHHUmwL

Monday, March 29, 2010

The End Of Prisons

CO Biz Magazine
a country that claims to be the land of the free, the number of people under the control of the U.S. corrections system has exploded over the last 25 years to more than 7.3 million, or 1 in every 31 U.S. adults, according to a report released by the Pew Center on the States. The actual number of people behind bars rose to 2.3 million, nearly five times more than the world’s average.

The U.S. currently boasts the highest rate of incarceration of any country at any time in history, a full 25 percent of the world’s prison population. We also have the greatest number of laws of any country at any time in history, laws created by nearly 90,000 separate governmental entities. This spaghetti mess of rules and regulation is so complicated that virtually any person can get tripped up by them. One simple mistake may very well result in incarceration, and it goes downhill from there.

Incarceration is a system that breeds failure.

On the prisoner level, an incoming prisoner is instantly immersed in an “us-vs-them” mindset as their surrounding community is transformed into the worst of all possible social circles.

On the operational level, success in the prison industry is not measured by how many lives have been improved, but rather on occupancy levels, the number of prison incidents and escape attempts, and how well the budget is managed.

On the justice system level, more prisoners translate into larger budgets. The system was created to protect people from criminals. Its based on the notion that if someone is removed from society they can no longer harm anyone. While certain crimes warrant imprisonment, it becomes an inappropriate form of punishment for most.

Police and court systems improve their standing in the justice community through the size of their organization which directly relates to the sheer volume of cases they handle. On a certain level, albeit indirectly, there are incentives to “create more criminals” because more criminals mean more money. A more appropriate measure of the effectiveness of an organization would be in the corrective or transformative nature of their actions, the overall efficiency with which a problem is solved and people (both the offenders and the offended) go back to leading productive lives.

Sex Assault Case Against 19 Year Old Increasingly Questionable

Denver post
A month ago, the sex-assault case against Tyler Sanchez pivoted on a DA's curious contention that low-cut jeans can be a breeding ground for random people's DNA.
Now, because we're talking Carol Chambers, the story naturally gets even stranger.
The 18th Judicial District Attorney keeps hounding Sanchez even though new evidence filed by the defense makes it increasingly questionable whether she's prosecuting the right man for an attack that terrified Douglas County's Stonegate neighborhood last summer.
Sanchez is 19, hearing impaired and has serious cognitive delays. He stands accused of breaking into an 8-year-old girl's second-story bedroom and groping her in July.
I've written that the thin teenage redhead looks nothing like the 40ish, heavier, brown-haired intruder described by the victim.
I've also reported that DNA analysis of her panties — the key piece of physical evidence — excludes him. Chambers went out of her way to argue that the results don't prove anything.
She offered this theory on why the girl's underwear bore the genetic markers of her father and an unknown male instead:
"With the low-cut jeans that girls wear, she could have picked up anyone's DNA off any surface her panties touched while they may have been riding up above her pants. I hate those low-cut pants," she said.
No physical evidence or witness accounts tie Sanchez to the attack or to the rash of thefts, trespasses and

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Carroll: Medical marijuana slugfest - The Denver Post

Carroll: Medical marijuana slugfest - The Denver Post

Brian Vicente of Sensible Colorado — that would be the pro-cannabis lobby — isn't letting his pleasure with a House committee vote this week dull his sense of realism.

Yes, the medical-marijuana industry is generally happy with regulations approved by the Judiciary Committee in a party-line vote, but Vicente knows the legislative terrain will only get steeper.

"I feel like we're in a 12-round fight and the first round may turn out to be our best," he told me.

For spectators to the slugfest over medical marijuana, it probably feels like the 10th or 11th round, given how long the conflict has raged. But those rounds were fought mostly in other arenas — before the Denver City Council, for example. This legislative dustup is the main event, and will determine whether dispensaries survive or are driven to extinction.

If you're like me and hope dispensaries in some form survive in the interest of genuine patients who were poorly served by the previous caregiver model — and believe me, some were — the prospect of the industry taking a few lumps is not so terrible. Why? Because the amended bill overreaches, and because Colorado has a chance to get its regulatory model right.

Among other things, the Judiciary Committee loosened rules on whether dispensary owners could have criminal drug records. But why? Is it really too much to expect that owners of businesses whose product on the black market props up a brutal network of thugs and assassins come to the table with clean hands? If they merely made a mistake earlier in their lives, fine. We all understand. But find another career.

Sen. Chris Romer, a Denver Democrat and a sponsor of House Bill 1284, says a clean record is "non-negotiable" with him. He'll turn on the bill if it's not included. He's also determined to remove an amendment allowing the consumption of edible products on a dispensary's premises (its rationale being that residents of federally subsidized housing can't take medical marijuana to their homes). "We're all sympathetic to the folks in VA housing," Romer says, "but we're not doing Amsterdam hash bars. We're doing wellness clinics."

Romer remains committed to regulatory standards that squeeze out what he calls "the knucklehead retail model" run by people with no expertise and not enough capital, and recounts a recent evening spent with Denver vice cops who responded to a crime at a low-rent dispensary. "Every employee was high," he told me, and "a 21-year-old guy was running the place."

He foresees dispensaries as sophisticated "wellness" centers regulated as thoroughly as casinos, where "every transaction is videotaped." No riffraff owners or employees. The life cycle of every plant tracked and documented. And, for that matter, a local option: If cities and counties want to ban dispensaries altogether, so be it, Romer says. Those are fighting words, though, since the House committee removed that provision, too.

CSU warns master gardeners not to advise marijuana growers - The Denver Post

CSU warns master gardeners not to advise marijuana growers - The Denver Post

FORT COLLINS — Colorado State University employees certified as master gardeners are being warned by university attorneys not to give advice to anyone about growing medical marijuana because the drug remains illegal under federal laws.

CSU spokesman Brad Bohlander said prospective medical marijuana growers have contacted several of the gardeners, who work at offices in almost every county in the state. The offices are meant as a link between academia and Colorado's agricultural community.

Colorado voters approved marijuana use for medical purposes in 2000. But CSU attorneys say that because federal law makes the drug illegal, employees will assume "personal liability" if they are charged with helping marijuana growers. The Associated Press

Amid Budget Crisis California Makes Parole Easier

AP News
LOS ANGELES — California's budget crisis and overcrowded prisons have led to a new reality for thousands of convicted felons: Parole is getting a lot easier — no more random drug tests, travel rules or requirements to check in with an officer.
Restrictions have been relaxed for nonviolent criminals like burglars, drug offenders and swindlers under a new law that aims to shrink the prison population by reducing the number of minor parole violations that send ex-cons back to prison.
About 24,000 nonviolent ex-cons are expected to qualify for less supervision. The number includes many people already on parole and those expected to be paroled over the next year.
Nonviolent offenders leaving prison will still be required to register their addresses with the prisons agency, but a state parole officer won't check up on them. Unannounced home visits and searches will be left to local law enforcement, if anyone at all.
Local law enforcement agencies and community groups are worried. They claim less supervision will lead to a spike in crime, compounding the exact problem state officials are trying to remedy.
"It's a pretty significant concern from the public safety standpoint," said Cmdr. Todd Rogers of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. "There's a really good chance these guys are going to go out and caper again."
The rules, which took effect Jan. 25, come as the state desperately tries to close a $20 billion budget gap. Nearly 11 percent of the state budget goes to prisons — about $8.6 billion this year. Officials estimate the measures will save the state about $500 million its first full year.
California, which has the nation's largest prison population, hopes dropping the restrictions, coupled with an early release program that will free 3,000 current inmates under new rules that allow them to shave time for completing rehabilitation and vocational programs, will cut California's 167,000-inmate prison population by 6,500.
The changes will also free up state parole officers to focus on ex-prison gang members, sex offenders and violent criminals, whose 70 percent recidivism rate is more than double that of the nonviolent ex-cons.
"Our supervision will be higher on those more likely to re-offend," said California Corrections spokesman Gordon Hinkle.

Watchdog proposes medical parole to cut California prison costs - Sacramento Politics - California Politics | Sacramento Bee

Watchdog proposes medical parole to cut California prison costs - Sacramento Politics - California Politics | Sacramento Bee

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Friday, March 26, 2010

Flood of medical-marijuana applications forces change - The Denver Post

Flood of medical-marijuana applications forces change - The Denver Post
Inundated with medical-marijuana patient applications, Colorado's health department has changed one way it handles the flood of paperwork.

Starting April 1, health department workers will no longer review applications submitted at the department's walk-up window to make sure they are complete before accepting them. In a news release, the health department said that practice unfairly gave walk-up applications priority and contributed to a backlog of mailed-in applications.

The department has been receiving about 1,000 applications per workday, nearly quadruple the number it was receiving per day over the summer, according to the release.

The lag between when an application is received and when a license is issued has now stretched to six months. The department is awaiting legislative approval of funding to add temporary workers to help with the backlog.

Read more: http://www.denverpost.com/ci_14760247#ixzz0jItK2kc3

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Other jails could follow Boulder County's new mail policy - Boulder Daily Camera

Other jails could follow Boulder County's new mail policy - Boulder Daily Camera

Although the Boulder County Jail recently became the first in Colorado to restrict inmate personal mail to postcards, rather than letters in envelopes, Division Chief Larry Hank said he doesn't expect it will be the last.

Hank, who oversees the jail and decided earlier this year to take away inmate access to envelopes for personal mail, said the Colorado Jail Association has requested copies of the jail's new mail policy because other facilities are interested in following suit.

At an association meeting Friday, the topic sparked a lot of interest, officials said, and several other counties are looking at restricting inmates' personal mail to postcards without envelopes.

The Boulder County Jail's new policy was developed after several inmates, including two convicted sex offenders, found a way to circumvent the "uncensored inmate mail" stamp -- which marks every piece of outgoing mail -- and get unlabeled letters to young girls. Gino Rael, 26, and Damien Whitehead, 33, are accused of stuffing letters in unmarked envelopes inside marked envelopes and sending them to a third party, who then would send the unlabeled letters to victims.

Read more: Other jails could follow Boulder County's new mail policy - Boulder Daily Camera http://www.dailycamera.com/boulder-county-news/ci_14732589#ixzz0jBnpSwXR

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Judge keeps Supermax inmate's lawsuit alive - The Denver Post

Judge keeps Supermax inmate's lawsuit alive - The Denver Post

DENVER—A judge says a federal inmate who killed at least two other inmates and a correctional officer can proceed with a lawsuit challenging his placement in solitary confinement.

Thomas Silverstein has been in the federal prison system since 1978 following a conviction for an armed bank robbery. He has been held in various prisons but was transferred to the maximum-security prison in Florence known as Supermax in 2005.

U.S. District Judge Philip Brimmer dismissed some claims in Silverstein's lawsuit, but he ruled Tuesday that Silverstein can proceed with a claim that he was placed indefinitely in solitary confinement without due process.

Silverstein is represented by a University of Denver law professor and her students.

Read more: http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_14749595#ixzz0j9hjMPyy



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CSP II: A Prison System Release Valve

Pueblo Chieftain
DENVER — The state prison system wants to address inmates' mental health problems and the dangers of mingling prisoners of varied risk classifications through the opening of Colorado State Penitentiary II.
  Gov. Bill Ritter's proposed budget for the fiscal year 2010-11, which begins July 1, calls for $10 million to open a portion of CSP II in Canon City. The money devoted to the project stood out as one of the few areas where the governor proposed spending, rather than cuts, in a budget with an estimated $1.3 billion deficit.
  Ritter's plan is subject to the Legislature's approval. It proposes to open 336 administrative-segregation beds — the state's highest security classification — and to employee 229 workers at CSP II. Inmates would be transferred from Limon, Buena Vista and the Arkansas Valley correctional facilities to CSP II beginning Sept. 1.
  The primary reason Ritter supports CSP II opening is the same one that DOC officials have touted: safety.
  Ari Zavaras, DOC executive director, points to inmates being housed in mixed classifications as a key factor in three inmate-on-inmate homicides during the past six months and a rise in assaults between inmates and on staff.
  Ad-seg inmates presently are housed with lower-risk inmates, creating an environment of danger and chaos, Zavaras told the JBC.
  Larry Reid is the warden of two Pueblo prisons — La Vista Correctional Facility and San Carlos Correctional Facility, which has a high concentration of mentally ill inmates. Reid said moving ad-seg inmates out of the general population allows "the offenders who are not problematic to enjoy the programs we have for them."
  As of last week, 142 ad-seg inmates were in need of placement away from inmates of lower classification. Zavaras told the JBC 126 of those would be moved from the original Colorado State Penitentiary to CSP II.
   Those 126 beds that would become available would in turn be filled with inmates suffering from diagnosed mental health conditions, because the original CSP offers treatment programs that prepare them to re-enter the general population or to be released from prison.
  During the past 18 months DOC has directed 200 inmates to those programs. Now, 30 have been reintroduced to the general prison population, and 40 more have been released.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Drug Sentencing Reform Makes It Through Judiciary

Denver Daily News

The House Judiciary Committee yesterday backed legislation that would place an emphasis on providing drug users with community-based counseling rather than send them to prison for long sentences.
House Bill 1352 passed the Judiciary Committee yesterday on a unanimous vote.
The bipartisan measure would reduce the charge for simple possession for most drugs from a class 6 felony to a class 1 misdemeanor. Simple possession would be defined as four grams, instead of one gram in all cases except for with methamphetamine. In the case of meth, simple possession would be defined as two grams or less.
Marijuana comes with its own classification system. A petty offense for marijuana would be raised from one ounce to two ounces and include a $100 fine; possession between two to 12 ounces of marijuana would be considered a misdemeanor; and anything more than 12 ounces would be considered a felony.
The bill is expected to save the state $60 million over five years, according to Rep. Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs, the bill’s sponsor.
“I (brought this bill forward) because I want to make our communities safer and I want to do it with the best bang for our limited public safety dollars as possible,” Waller told the Judiciary Committee.
Despite the bill’s unanimous approval, not everyone is in favor of the legislation. Beverly Kinard, founder of Guarding Our Children Against Marijuana, objected strongly to the $100 fine for petty possession of marijuana, arguing that the fine should be as high as $1,000 to deter children from using pot. She believes that a $1,000 fine would encourage parents to intervene.
“This bill gets the message out to young people that marijuana is OK,” Kinard told lawmakers. 
But lawmakers are looking at both fiscal and social savings to the bill, noting that the measure could potentially lower simple possession sentences for those who are sent to prison from as many as six years in prison to 18 months.
The bill would also stiffen mandatory minimum sentences for drug dealers who sell drugs to children.
The legislation stems from recommendations made by the Colorado Commission on Criminal & Juvenile Justice. Unlike sentencing reform bills of years past, HB 1352 has a broad spectrum of support, including the attorney general, prosecutors, defense attorneys, Republicans and Democrats. 
“It does take a leap of faith, and it is in so many ways a paradigm shift that we’re asking people to understand in that a way to deal with these possession-type offenses is with an eye toward more good, meaningful evaluations and ongoing meaningful treatment so that you keep them out of the jails and out of the prisons and productive members of society and hopefully break the addiction cycle,” said Tom Raynes, deputy attorney general for the Attorney General’s Office.
Paul Thompson, a former heroin addict who spent time in prison for drug-related crimes but later became a counselor for Peer 1, said it is amazing for him to see lawmakers and prosecutors shift their priorities from sentencing to counseling. 
“I believe this bill is historic,” said Thompson. “For someone like myself, it’s like watching man land on the moon to watch district attorneys and public defenders working together to help an addict. It’s an incredible thing.”

Medical-pot bill friendly to industry OK'd by panel - The Denver Post

Medical-pot bill friendly to industry OK'd by panel - The Denver Post

Medical-marijuana advocates scored another win Monday at the state Capitol when a legislative panel approved a bill creating new dispensary regulations after making several industry-friendly changes.
A divided House Judiciary Committee removed a provision that would have allowed local governments to ban dispensaries in their communities. The committee also voted to allow consumption of marijuana-infused products at dispensaries, lower the amount of marijuana a dispensary would have to grow itself, eliminate a cap on the number of patients a dispensary could serve and loosen the rules for past criminal violations that could automatically disqualify someone from owning a dispensary.
House Bill 1284 would require dispensaries

to be licensed with the state, grow 70 percent of the marijuana they sell and be subject to strict operational regulations. The committee passed the bill on a 7-4 party-line vote with Democrats in favor, though some votes on amendments were closer.
"This provides tremendous opportunities for this business and this form of medication to be used in a highly regulated environment," said Rep. Claire Levy, a Boulder Democrat who chairs the committee.
Brian Vicente, the executive director of the medical-marijuana patient-advocacy group Sensible Colorado, called the revised bill a "significant improvement."
"This bill is becoming closer to what patients need in this state," he said.
But not everyone is pleased.
Mark Radtke, the legislative and policy advocate for the Colorado Municipal League, said the organization would fight to restore the ability of local governments to ban dispensaries. Rep. Steve King, a Grand Junction Republican who sits on the committee, said the bill distorts the intent of Amendment 20, the state constitutional provision that legalizes medical marijuana.

Coming prison closure adding to Walsenburg's woes - The Denver Post

Coming prison closure adding to Walsenburg's woes - The Denver Post

WALSENBURG — Workers at Duckwall's Hometown Variety Store here dismantled cabinets Thursday that days earlier were packed with everything from yarn to plumbing supplies to fishing gear.

Profits from the store, owned by a national chain, had evaporated in the past year. Now the town's second-biggest employer, the Huerfano County Correctional Center, was set to lay off 188 employees and close its doors April 2, making the store's prospects for a financial rebound unlikely.

After a 16-year run, Duckwall's did not renew its lease for the building on the corner of Sixth and Main streets, and so six more part-time employees in this southern Colorado town of about 4,000 — already hard hit by the recession —

lost their jobs.

"The economy of this town is zilch. The prison closing down is going to hurt," said Joe Kancilia, who owns a gun and furniture shop a few blocks west of Duckwall's.

Walsenburg is one of many small Colorado towns where privately run prisons drive the economy. But many states, including Colorado, are cutting their contracts with private jailers.

Corrections Corporation of America announced it would close the Walsenburg prison after Arizona said earlier this year that it was withdrawing all of its 700 inmates from the facility. On Monday, the last inmate was to climb aboard a bus headed for a newly constructed state-owned prison in Arizona.

The Huerfano prison, just east of Interstate 25, will remain closed until CCA enters a contract with Colorado — or with another state overflowing with prisoners and enough money to ship them to Walsenburg.

Prison population down

Colorado Department of Corrections spokeswoman Kath er ine Sanguinetti said Colorado's prison population is declining for the first time in decades and the state will fill its own prisons first. CCA is seeking a new contract but doesn't have any prospects yet, spokesman Steve Owen said.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Drug Sentencing Reform Makes It Through Judiciary

After a long afternoon of waiting for HB 1352 to be heard by House Judiciary, the cleared the first hurdle in what will hopefully be one of the strongest sentencing reform bills to ever clear the legislature.  An amendment that created possible funding for treatment was also adopted into the medical marijuana bill earlier in the day.  Thank you to all who waited patiently to testify and support, we certainly appreciate your help

State trooper arrested on DUI charges in Douglas Co. - The Denver Post

State trooper arrested on DUI charges in Douglas Co. - The Denver Post



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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Dirty Prison Trick

A recent story in the Topeka Capital-Journal about a 2005 renovation at a Kansas women's prison has a familiar ring to it.
Inmates and corrections employees have long claimed that they were forced to remove asbestos flooring without adequate training or equipment, and state officials have failed to produce records to back up claims that all the abatement efforts of the toxic materials at the prison were performed by professionals.
It sounds very close to what happened after the Colorado Department of Corrections took over the aging Fort Lyon campus from the Veterans Administration in 2001 and turned it into a prison for elderly and infirm inmates.
The DOC moved prisoners into the asbestos-rich old buildings long before abatement was completed, and over the years startling stories have emerged of prisoners being sent into crawlspaces, ordered to cut pipes or rip up tiles and being exposed to asbestos in areas later sealed off, as recounted in my 2007 feature "Poisoned Pen."
Although DOC officials concede that some inmates may have been subject to inadvertent exposures, they have claimed that no inmates were actually involved in asbestos removal. But several prisoners insist they were ordered to do renovation work without protective gear in areas that clearly contained asbestos, and state health inspectors found evidence that backed up some of their claims.
The Kansas debacle is now the subject of an EPA investigation. Because asbestos-related diseases can take decades to develop, we may never know the extent of the contamination of Colorado prisoners or employees at Fort Lyon. But officials insist that the asbestos problems there, while more costly than they anticipated, are now a thing of the past.
Or the future, depending on how you look at it.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Smaller Prison Count Breaks 38-Year Trend


Mississippi is a tough-on-crime state, and in 1995, like many tough-on-crime states, it approved a version of “truth in sentencing” — a popular law requiring inmates to serve at least 85 percent of their prison terms before they could be considered for parole. More than half the states have similar laws on the books.
Mississippi, however, changed course two years ago. Responding to budget constraints and a surge in its prison population — from about 12,000 inmates in 1995 to more than 22,000 in 2008 — lawmakers revisited truth in sentencing. They changed the law so nonviolent offenders would be eligible for parole after serving a quarter, not 85 percent, of their sentences. Over the course of the next year, more than 3,000 inmates were released an average of 13 months earlier than they otherwise would have been.
The move put Mississippi at the leading edge of a major national change, one that appears to be the result of teeming prisons, a deep recession and changing attitudes toward corrections. For the first time in 38 years, state prison populations declined in 2009, according to a 50-state survey released Wednesday (March 17) by the Pew Center on the States, the parent organization of Stateline.org.
Mississippi saw one of the sharpest declines of any state, shedding 5.4 percent of its inmates, or 1,233 people, from the end of 2008 to the beginning of this year, when the survey was conducted. The Pew study attributed the drop largely to the state’s easing of its tough truth-in-sentencing law, but the Legislature has made other changes over the years to free up prison space and save money. Last year, for example, lawmakers removed a 180-day cap on the amount of earned-time credits prisoners could accrue by participating in educational and self-improvement programs behind bars, making more of them eligible for accelerated release.
Overall, prison populations declined in 27 states in 2009, led by Rhode Island (9.2 percent decline), Michigan (6.7 percent), New Hampshire (6 percent) and Maryland (5.6 percent).
The Pew study stressed, however, that prison populations are not declining because states are “simply shedding inmates in a rush to save money.” It noted that prison admissions for new crimes are down, too — contrary to what many criminologists had predicted when the recession began.
The decrease in prison admissions itself could be a byproduct of the recession, says Scott Burns, executive director of the National District Attorneys Association. With prosecutors’ offices around the nation facing hiring freezes or furloughed employees because of state and local budget cuts, there may not be enough manpower to investigate and prosecute as many cases, Burns says.
Meanwhile, the Pew survey found higher inmate counts in 23 states, led by Indiana (5.1 percent increase), West Virginia (5.1 percent), Vermont (5 percent), Pennsylvania (4.3 percent) and Alaska (3.8 percent). The national prison population increased slightly, but only because of an uptick in the number of prisoners in the federal government’s custody, which the study attributed partly to an increasing federal crackdown in immigration cases.
The findings mark a significant turning point in corrections in the United States, which locks up far more people than any other country. Earlier Pew reports have found that about 1 in every 100 adults in the United States is behind bars, and about 1 in every 31 is under some form of correctional supervision, when probation or parole are included. Between 1972, the last time states’ prison populations saw a year-over-year decline, and 2008, the year before the latest decrease, the number of state inmates grew by more than 700 percent — with state budgets often struggling to keep up.
States have taken a host of steps during the current recession to cut corrections costs, including laying off or furloughing prison workers, closing facilities, using technology in place of workers, double- and triple-bunking inmates and, ultimately, changing sentencing and release policies to manage their prison populations. In some states, declining prison populations can be traced directly to recent state legislative actions.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Denver police change rules on use of force - The Denver Post

Denver police change rules on use of force - The Denver Post

Denver police officers as of today won't carry blackjacks and must comply with a host of other rules governing the use of stun guns and other implements, thanks to 2008 deadly force audit recommendations only now taking effect.

The new rules coincide with the release of the Denver independent monitor's report, which points out a downward trend in officer shootings but highlights the most serious disciplinary problems in the police and sheriff's departments.

Police Chief Gerry Whitman said the new policy puts into the rule book the common-sense practices already used by officers in most cases.

"We've had great success with training officers and allowing them to make decisions," Whitman said. "The more we put these (practices) into policy and train on them, the easier it is to make decisions quickly."

A 2008 audit by the Police Assessment Resource Center cited as unsafe the use of handguns, flashlights and blackjacks — also called saps — to strike people.

Instead of blackjacks, officers will use foldout batons more commonly employed by other cities, Whitman said. Flashlights and handguns will not be allowed as striking weapons except as a last resort.

And officers in most cases won't be allowed to use a stun gun on people who could fall and seriously injure or kill themselves, people driving a car, people holding a firearm or the elderly and disabled.

The policies — on which officers have been training for months — solve problems that don't exist with the Police Department and could trip up officers in the future, said Mike Mosco, president of Denver Police Protective Association.

"When you put in these unnecessary policies, you're setting up people to fail," Mosco said. "This is a knee- jerk reaction by our administration.

Read more: http://www.denverpost.com/ci_14676175#ixzz0iHNmaeF5

ACLU Idaho Prison Officials Promote Rampant Violence

BOISE, ID – The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Idaho today filed a class action federal lawsuit charging that officials at the Idaho Correctional Center (ICC) promote and facilitate a culture of rampant violence that has led to carnage and suffering among prisoners at the state-owned facility operated by the for-profit company Corrections Corporation of America (CCA).

Filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho, the lawsuit charges that epidemic violence at the facility is the direct result of, among other things, ICC officials turning a blind eye to the brutality, a prison culture that relies on the degradation, humiliation and subjugation of prisoners, a failure to discipline guards who intentionally arrange assaults and a reliance on violence as a management tool. 

"In my 39 years of suing prisons and jails, I have never confronted a more disgraceful, revolting and inexcusable case of mass abuse and federal rights violations than this one," said Stephen Pevar, a senior staff attorney for the ACLU. "The level of unnecessary human suffering is appalling. Prison officials have utterly failed to uphold their constitutional obligation to protect prisoners from being violently harmed and we must seek court intervention."

According to the lawsuit, a deeply entrenched culture of brutality has resulted in higher levels of violence at ICC than at Idaho's eight other prisons combined. The lawsuit highlights 24 different cases of assault that have occurred at ICC since November 2006, all of which were entirely preventable and the direct result of failures by ICC officials to protect prisoners despite being placed on notice that these prisoners faced a substantial risk of serious harm. The cases highlighted in the lawsuit are not exhaustive, but instead are merely representative of the scores of additional assaults that have occurred at ICC during the past four years.

The cases of prisoner-on-prisoner violence highlighted in the lawsuit include a prisoner who was hit in his ear so hard that it partially detached from the side of his head, a prisoner who, in anticipation of being brutally assaulted, removed his eyeglasses to protect them prior to receiving a pummeling, a prisoner who was beaten so badly that his teeth were pushed through his lower lip causing effusive bleeding that took an officer more than two hours to clean up, a prisoner who required eight screws to put his jaw back into place after being savagely beaten in the face and a prisoner whose requests for X-rays on the heels of being beaten were met by laughter from a prison guard who callously informed him there was no need for x-rays since his nose was so obviously broken.

Disagreement over effect of new Greeley ICE office - The Denver Post

Disagreement over effect of new Greeley ICE office - The Denver Post

GREELEY — Operations at a controversial Immigration and Customs Enforcement field office are revving up, heartening local law enforcement, while reviving criticisms that the facility will further divide Greeley along racial lines.

"It's the same argument we've had before; it hasn't changed," said Latino activist Sylvia Martinez. "We don't need this here, and it's going to scare away a lot of workers for the local economy."

Equipment and agents are filtering into the office at 4645 18th St., where ICE operations previously housed in Brush will be consolidated.

"The office is not yet fully operational," said ICE spokesman Carl Rusnok. "The computers are being installed, and we'll probably have a grand opening in a few weeks."

The Greeley branch will handle workforce investigations as well as gang activity, money laundering and smuggling.

Several funding snags delayed the opening of the office for more than a year despite lobbying for the facility by such officials as former U.S. Sen. Wayne Allard and Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck.

The General Services Administration says it entered into a five-year lease for the Greeley building with an option for another five.

Another ICE office opened in Colorado Springs in November.

The Greeley office faced opposition, mostly from local Latinos who say it will be used to intimidate law-abiding workers who come here to earn money in restaurants, construction sites and farmland.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Committee approves bill that imposes jail time on repeat DUI offenders - The Denver Post

Committee approves bill that imposes jail time on repeat DUI offenders - The Denver Post

Persistently drunken drivers should face mandatory jail time in Colorado, a legislative committee agreed Monday.

In a unanimous vote, the House Judiciary Committee approved a bill requiring at least 10 days in jail for a second drunken-driving offense and at least 60 days in jail for third and subsequent offenses.

Repeat offenders also would be required to spend up to two years on probation and participate in alcohol education and treatment classes.

Persistently drunken drivers "are on the roads causing a significant threat to all of us," said Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder, the committee chairwoman and bill sponsor. The bill "does impose an immediate sanction that is certain" on drunken drivers, she said, "without causing them to lose jobs and families."

Levy's bill has been endorsed by a state criminal justice commission whose membership ranges from prosecutors and law enforcement officers to defense lawyers, counselors and probation officers. The bill represents a compromise accepted by those various interests.

On a second or third conviction, drunken drivers would face the certain punishment of nights behind bars. But those who are employed would be eligible to continue supporting family members through work-release programs. And second offenders who have no prior DUI within the past five years could be sentenced to in-home detention.

Colorado law already permits judges to sentence repeat offenders to as much as a year in jail. But in a series last year, The Denver Post reported that sentences vary widely from county to county, and some judges were imposing no jail time when offenders had as many as seven DUIs

Read more: http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_14659157#ixzz0hyI1lRWh

Denver Daily: Debate Over Prison Funding

The Denver Daily News

Debate over prison funding

Coalition opposes proposal to open 316 beds at CSP II

Peter Marcus, DDN Staff Writer

Friday, March 12, 2010

A coalition opposed to a $10.8 million proposal to open one of three towers at Colorado State Prison II is calling on the powerful Joint Budget Committee today to reject the proposal supported by the Department of Corrections and Gov. Bill Ritter.
Criminal defense attorneys, mental health advocates and justice reform proponents say now is not the time to be approving additional funding for new prison beds Ń not when the state has already cut over $2 billion in the current fiscal year and is looking at another $1.5 billion in cuts in the upcoming year.
The JBC is expected to weigh the $10.8 million proposal today.
As part of Ritter’s latest $340 million budget-balancing proposal unveiled in February, the governor is calling for opening 33 percent, or 316 beds, of the new Colorado State Penitentiary II. Supporters of the proposal point to a string of violent incidents caused by some of the state’s most violent and destructive prisoners who are being housed in regular prisons. 
The new tower would house some of the state’s most violent offenders, with inmates locked up about 23 hours a day.
Proponents of the proposal point out that DOC services and facilities have been cut by $14.8 million as part of recent budget-balancing measures, making the issue a matter of public safety.
At a news conference last week, Corrections officers pointed out that there have been three inmate murders over the last several months. They also pointed to a Corrections officer who had her throat slashed by an inmate at Limon Correctional Facility and another Corrections officer who was murdered at Limon Ń all within the last decade.
But critics say housing the state’s most violent offenders in one unit is a poor fiscal and social move. They say increasing vocational programs and so-called wrap-around services for parolees is a better use of money. The state recently backed out of $3 million in vocational programs and $1.8 million in wrap-around services when the economic downturn intensified and budget shortfalls increased. 
“It is counterintuitive and counterproductive to cut successful, research-based programs that promote productivity and safety both within prison and after release,” said Christie Donner, executive director of the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition.

Supermax Showdown: Don't confuse us with the facts...


Categories: Follow That Story
"We were lucky that day": Colorado Department of Corrections Sgt. Bill Nelson describes responding to a 2007 inmate attack on Limon staffer Pam Kahanic (left).
At first glance, the idea of tapping into the badly stretched state budget for a few million to open one wing of a new supermax prison doesn't seem all that loony.
After all, the Colorado Department of Corrections spent more than $200 million to build the new state pen, known in sequelspeak as CSP 2, before running out of money to operate it. And three recent inmate homicides in the system have been blamed on the DOC's "shortage" of administrative segregation beds, leaving ultraviolent maniacs and stone-cold killers to mingle with more cultured, genteel, peace-loving felons.
So putting more inmates into 23-hours-a-day lockdown should straighten things out, right?
Ah, if only the science of corrections was that simple. When lawmakers on the Joint Budget Committee sit down on Friday to consider the DOC's request for another $10.8 million to open part of CSP 2, they're going to find themselves in the crossfire of a complex argument about recidivism, mental illness and the staggering cost of locking down an ever-growing percentage of the prison population.
The basic pitch for moving ahead with the new supermax is that, thanks to budget cuts and increasing inmate violence, the system is becoming more dangerous for staff and inmates alike. At a press conference at the Capitol last week, corrections officers complained of low morale and faulty radios and grimly described the deteriorating situation at the Limon Correctional Facility. There, officer Eric Autobee was slain in 2002 and Pam Kahanic narrowly survived a throat-slashing by an inmate who took her hostage in 2007.
The officers were protesting a recent Republican attempt at across-the-board cuts to the DOC budget that would have slashed another 209 DOC employees, on top of the ninety lost in the past fiscal year. But the event was also a backhanded endorsement of CSP 2, which state representative Buffie McFadyen described as a "relief valve."
McFadyen conceded that the DOC is short on mental health services and that many of the current ad-seg inmates -- almost 40 percent, actually -- are classified as mentally ill. But, she said, "I can't deal with mental health issues of inmates if I don't have safety first."
Fair enough. But the coalition of groups rallying against CSP 2 -- including the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar, the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, and the Colorado chapter of the ACLU -- claim that, contrary to the DOC's assertions, supermax prisons don't make the rest of the system (or the public, for that matter) any safer. And they have some interesting data on their side.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

CO lawmakers to feds: Halt medical marijuana raids - The Denver Post

CO lawmakers to feds: Halt medical marijuana raids - The Denver Post
DENVER—A bipartisan group of Colorado lawmakers trying to regulate the state's medical marijuana industry is calling on U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to stop raids of medical marijuana operations, saying the raids are making it harder to create rules to keep tabs on the booming industry.

They e-mailed Holder a letter Monday, copying in President Barack Obama and officials at the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

Tracy Schmaler, a Justice Department spokeswoman, said the department would review the letter but declined further comment.

Last month, a suburban Denver man who said he was a medical marijuana provider was charged with drug possession in federal court after DEA agents raided his home and found 224 pot plants. Agents became suspicious about the size of the man's Highlands Ranch operation after he told a Denver television station he expected to make up to $400,000 a year.

Agents also raided two Colorado laboratories that test medical marijuana for pesticides and potency after they applied for licenses from the DEA. The operator of one said he was raided on the day he showed up at the state Capitol to testify on some of the proposed medical marijuana regulations.

Democratic Sen. Chris Romer of Denver, one of four lawmakers to sign the letter, said he's most troubled by the laboratory raids since the labs appeared to be in compliance with Colorado law. He said the Highlands Ranch case is less clear-cut.

Romer wants to pass regulations that require dispensaries to grow their marijuana in rural or industrial areas—eliminating neighborhood grows—and have the state keep a confidential database of their location. He said he's facing resistance because growers fear that the DEA could use the database to crack down on them.

"It's kind of hard to build trust in the environment that's been created by these raids," Romer said.

Sen. Nancy Spence, R-Centennial, said the federal government shouldn't be getting involved in any possible violations of Colorado's medical marijuana law.

The letter also was signed by Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs, and Rep. Beth McCann, D-Denver.

Read more: http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_14636754?source=searchles#ixzz0huWhqPdq

Son says man killed by Thornton cops was bipolar - The Denver Post

Son says man killed by Thornton cops was bipolar - The Denver Post

The man shot to death by Thornton police early Wednesday was a long-time baggage handler for American Airlines who was diagnosed as being bipolar in 2004, his son said today.

"He was a hardworking man," Daniel Mason said of his 45-year-old father, Clint Mason, who was shot early Wednesday outside a Thornton residence.

Daniel Mason, 23, said that as long as his father was on his medications, he was "perfectly fine." But off his medications, he had mood swings and could be difficult.

Daniel Mason said his father had worked for American Airlines in Albuquerque, Chicago and most recently in Denver.

Daniel Mason said his parents divorced more than 13 years ago. He said he and his sister would fly from Albuquerque to Chicago every summer and spend two weeks with his father. On occasions, his father would take them to Chicago's O'Hare Airport and they'd watch his dad loading luggage onto planes.

Daniel Mason said his dad took pride in his work.

Clint Mason remarried, but about five years ago, he divorced. Daniel Mason said that his father's psychological problems made the marriage tough for his second wife.

"His wife couldn't take all the changes," said Daniel Mason about his father's mood swings.

Clint Mason had no serious problems with law enforcement.

Pot and Booze Bound for the Ballot

the Denver Post
Two ballot initiatives filed late Wednesday would change the way booze and pot – and not the medicinal kind – are sold in Colorado.
The first, Initiative 47, lauds the benefits of legalizing and regulating the sale of marijuana in its preamble.
“The link between marijuana and other illicit drugs like heroin and cocaine will be broken so that teens who attempt to purchase marijuana will not be exposed to these more dangerous substances,” it reads. “Legitimate, taxpaying businesspeople in the state will benefit from the sales of marijuana, not criminal gangs and cartels.”
Backers of the proposed Constitutional amendment – Mason Tvert and Eva Enns – could not be immediately reached for comment. A phone call placed to their listed phone number was answered by a recorded message from pro-marijuana group SAFER.
The second proposal, Initiative 48, goes farther than any other booze legislation that has hit the Capitol in the last three years.
It would allow liquor stores owners to run as many shops as they like. They’re now limited to one license.
It would allow grocery stores to sell beer, wine and liquor at all of their locations.
And it would allow convenience stores to sell full-strength beer, where they are now limited to lower alcohol 3.2 percent beer.
The backers of the second proposal, Blake Harrison and Lawrence Phipps, are the same pair who last year introduced an initiative to allow the sale of full-strength beer in convenience stores.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Colorado Criminally Failing Youth Suspects

Colorado Independent
DENVER– Juveniles charged as adults in Colorado and awaiting trial as inmates in adult prisons find themselves part of a system that fails to educate them, provide them equal access to services like mental health care or even to ensure they are housed according to strict safety guidelines. People involved in the system admit to not knowing how many young people charged as adults are presently being held by the state and in which prisons. Colorado sheriffs frankly admitted to the Colorado Independent that their adult facilities are inappropriate for managing juvenile detention.
youth prison
Jeanne Smith, director of the Colorado Division of Criminal Justice, said a large part of the problem is a lack of data. She told the Independent that the state doesn’t conduct the most rudimentary research on minors being held in adult prisons, a fact she suggests is at odds with the state’s aggressive direct-file law, which grants prosecutors not judges the decision-making power to try juveniles as adults.
“It takes money to do evaluation and research and right now Colorado doesn’t have it,” Smith said. “I don’t know that there is anybody in the state who has done a study of the county jails and what they are doing,” Smith said. “The state judiciary has the numbers on how many [juveniles] get filed on but they don’t know how many are being held in juvenile facilities or in county jails.”
Minors being held in adult prisons often can’t take advantage of services offered to adults because state law requires for safety reasons that minors remain separated from the adult population. As a result, juveniles awaiting trial as adult are often held in solitary confinement.
Discussion surrounding a bill introduced this legislative session by State Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster, highlights the netherworld these youth suspects have fallen into in Colorado.
As the Colorado Independent reported last month, Hudak is seeking to address the fact that the state is in violation of its constitutional responsibility to educate these minors. But representatives for the Colorado Association of School Boards say educating these kids is the state’s responsibility, not the responsibility of the school districts, and that there is no money to pay teachers and buy supplies and set up space for instruction. Jane Urschel, a lobbyist for the school boards, told the Independent that Hudak’s bill would simply establish an unfunded mandate. All parties agree this is a serious problem in search of a solution yet Hudak admits her bill will likely fail to pass this year as lawmakers struggle to cut millions from the budget.
In 2008, Colorado “direct filed” on 179 juveniles, according to the Legislative Council. Although numbers vary widely depending on whom you ask, Legislative Council estimates that an average of only 15 juveniles would receive educational resources under state Sen. Hudak’s bill.
But Jessika Shipley, the research associate for the state who wrote the fiscal note for the bill, said that the number 15 was merely “a stab in the dark” because no department currently tracks the numbers of juveniles held in adult jails. There’s no way at this point, she said, to solidly map the contours of the problem the bill hopes to address.
Colorado law requires that prison administrators and employees keep juveniles held in adult facilities separated from adult inmates in a way that they can neither be seen nor heard. Most all parties agree the requirement is a good policy but they also agree it forces juveniles into isolated cells and reduces their access to resources and services.
Smith told the Independent that a 2008 panel on direct-file laws and juvenile-adult detention raised concerns that young suspects held in isolated conditions might be suffering higher levels of serious and even life-threatening depression.
“I can say that was a concern at the committee hearing… but can I tell you that there was any study done on the matter? Can I tell you that X amount of times [a suicide] has happened? No, I can’t tell you that. It was an issue that was raised,” Smith said, again lamenting the lack of data.
According to a report put out by the Campaign for Youth Justice , three juveniles awaiting trial in adult facilities committed suicide over the last two years. The circumstances vary and have not been reported in detail.
James Stewart, a minor housed in Denver County Jail, committed suicide an hour after being placed in solitary confinement. Stewart had reportedly fought with his cell mate, which led to his placement in solitary.
Sandy Mullins, executive director of the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar told the Colorado independent that Stewart had begged not to be isolated.
In Pueblo County Jail, Robert John Borrego, Jr., 17, had been housed for about 20 days in a space with other juveniles before he committed suicide.
Pueblo County Sheriff’s Office Captain Dave Lucero declined to comment on the Borrego case because it is currently the subject of a lawsuit. He said he didn’t think the death was tied to the facility but that he strongly agreed the facility was not suited to housing minors. Lucero sent a letter to the Department of Corrections outlining his concerns, explaining that Pueblo’s jail wasn’t built to manage juveniles and felt it would be better to house them in an outside facility.
Kim Dvorak, a criminal defense attorney who advocates for juvenile rights, told the Independent that Denver County Sheriff Major Vickie Connors sent a similar letter. Connors didn’t return requests for comment.
Lucero said that complying with “Colorado sight and sound regulations” was difficult but that he can house a “couple of juveniles in medcells,” which are 23-hour isolated lock-down facilities.
“While they are in a 23 hour lock-down area, we do provide them with games and TVs. We make sure we get them out for the recreation time when we can, which is inconvenient because we have the majority of the adult population that we have to regulate throughout the day. So we might not be able to recreate a juvenile till 4 o’clock, 3 o’clock in the morning,” Lucero said.
Lucero said in some cases he simply uses a curtain to keep the juveniles out of sight of adult prisoners.
Direct file
These sorts of problems are intrinsic to the “direct-file” system, which allows D.A.’s to try as adults juveniles 14 years of age and older, mostly on suspicion of violent crimes, according to child’s rights advocates. Although juveniles in Colorado used to undergo a transfer hearing by a judge who decided whether a juvenile should be charged as an adult, in the wake of the 1993 “summer of violence,” the General Assembly voted to institute direct file to address gang crimes. Child advocates have been working for years to return to the system that called on judges to make the decision.
But Ted C. Tow, executive director for the Colorado District Attorney’s Council, said D.A.s here guard their direct-file privileges closely. He said “transfer hearings” require members of the judicial branch to do work that rightly belongs to members of the executive branch. Direct file is a better way to get at justice, he said.
But Tow spoke also of Colorado’s Youthful Offender System (YOS), a program that reduces sentences while preparing those convicted under direct file to be productive members of society.
“In other words [a judge is] going to sentence you, say a juvenile who has been convicted as an adult where he pistol whipped somebody. The judge will say ‘I am going to sentence you to 18 years in prison but I am going to suspend that if you successfully complete the YOS program.’ That prison sentence hanging over their head is one of the main reasons that [the YOS program] is so successful. Because the [juveniles] have every incentive to keep their butt out of big boy prison.”
Tow said he didn’t have up-to-date data but guessed that about 100 direct files occur per year, or about 1 percent of felony cases filed against juveniles.
Mullins, of the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar, said his organization would like to push legislation this session that would track the number of children who die while being held in the state’s prisons and that would document the conditions in which they are being held.
Unfortunately, this is a bad year to act, she said, referring to the budget crunch.

Zavaras Talks About Suspension Of Boot Camp

Mountain Mail
Ripple effects of closure of the boot camp program at Buena Vista Correctional Complex were discussed during a public meeting March 1 in the Buena Vista Community Center.

About 50 people attended as Ari Zavaras, Colorado Department of Corrections executive director, said, "There is no easy way to face what we are facing. The state budget has a $1.3 billion shortfall. We are facing a cut."

When budget cuts were first discussed, Zavaras said priority for Gov. Bill Ritter was maintaining safety of inmates, employees and the public. Ritter favors retaining programs for inmates.

Zavaras continued, "We've avoided layoffs. One advantage of a large agency is the number of retirements leaving jobs open," he said.

The 33 boot camp employees will be offered jobs within the main Buena Vista complex or an option to transfer to another location.

Zavaras said corrections population is declining about 70 inmates per month. The boot camp has a declining population and a per diem cost that rose to $109 per inmate per day.

"Of interest to me," he said, "is that the number of boot campers rearrested for a new crime is nearly double the number of rearrests for inmates from the other populations."

Alison Morgan, assistant director of business services and systems, said another factor considered was increased numbers of violent offenders and decreasing numbers of boot-camp-eligible offenders.

Zavaras talked about "stress within the system," citing an increase of inmate-on-inmate and inmate-on-staff assaults. There were three homicides in correctional locations during the last three months.

Zavaras attributed some problems to increased numbers of gang members - from 5,000 to 10,000. Prison employees locked down facilities 176 times this year, he said.

Another system stress is having the right bed for an inmate, Zavaras said. Buena Vista Correctional Complex is a medium-custody facility, but the number of high-security or close-custody inmates is 47 percent of the population.

Statewide, he said, 1,300 inmates are housed out of their custody level which causes "lots of problems."

Morgan said, "It (became) boot camp versus the need for beds."

Zavaras said a program had to be cut to open 316 beds. Feb. 18, the department opened Tower 1 in the newly constructed Colorado State Penitentiary II within the Cañon City prison complex.

Karl Spiecker, director of finance and administration, said suspension of the boot camp will save $900,000 the first year and $1 million a year thereafter.

The department is saving $5.2 million with closure of the Colorado Women's Facility, $6.7 million on decreased inmate housing in private prisons and $10.9 million in furloughs for state employees.

Park County Undersheriff Monte Gore said the county jail houses offenders awaiting arrival in boot camp.

Suspension of boot camp, Gore said, means Park County will lose personnel and income of $144,000. Park County is asking for help seeking alternatives for housing other offenders, he said.

The economy isn't good in Park County, he said.

Another group affected by state budget cuts is boot camp employees. One asked which other state agencies are taking cuts and what cuts other department of corrections employees will receive.

Spiecker said on payday correctional employees will receive a 2.5 percent pay cut because of budget slicing in addition to increased withholding of Public Employee Retirement Association contributions.

Zavaras said, "If the state revenue shortage continues, it could mean more adjustments beyond what we're facing tonight."

Residents who volunteer to work with boot camp inmates said the program has been successful and helped inmates.

Volunteer B.J. Kirkwood said it was his impression the increase in boot camp inmate recidivism is because budget cuts several years ago forced loss of after-care programs.

"I hate to see (boot camp) disappear because of an invalid recidivism rate," he said.

Another volunteer said she worries about programs that will be available for boot camp inmates after their release.

Zavaras replied, "There are treatments and programs throughout the systems."

Chaffee County Commissioner Dennis Giese asked prison officials to understand that what the department of corrections does will have an economic impact upon the county and schools.

Susan Shampine of Buena Vista said she applauded placement of former boot camp employees within the system.

"On the other side," she said, "the impact on this small community is huge.

Zavaras replied, "We aren't saying it doesn't change lives here."

Suspect dies after being shot by Thornton police - The Denver Post

Suspect dies after being shot by Thornton police - The Denver Post
THORNTON — A man who allegedly broke into the Thornton home of his roommate, stole the roommate's van and then returned to the residence minutes later was fatally shot by Thornton police early today.

Matt Barnes, spokesman for the Thornton Police Department, said the man returned to the home around 4 a.m., some 15 minutes after police originally received reports that the suspect broke into the home, trashed the interior and stole a van.

As the man approached two officers, he had his hand on a large knife and ignored repeated commands to "stop" and to "get on the ground."

One of the officers fired a Taser at the man; the second officer fired his gun, according to Barnes. The suspect died a short time later at a local hospital.

Barnes said that he does not know how many shots were fired or whether the man had taken the knife out of a sheath and pointed it at the officers.

The name of the suspect was not released.

The incident started at 3:45 a.m., when police received a call from a home in the 11600 block of Steele Street from a man who said his roommate had broken into the home, ransacked the premises, and then stolen his work van.

Read more: http://www.denverpost.com/ci_14646631#ixzz0hn2gjF0L

Action Alert -- Stop The Opening Of CSP II

THIS FRIDAY, March 12th, the Joint Budget Committee will be finalizing the DOC budget for the upcoming fiscal year which will become part of the “Long Bill”, the state budget bill that must be approved by the Legislature and signed by the Governor.
As part of its 2010-2011 budget request, the Department of Corrections (DOC) is asking for $10.8 million to open one tower at the Colorado State Penitentiary II (CSP II). This request is stunning because it comes on the heels of cuts recently made to the current DOC budget (2009-2010) for prison vocational and educational programs ($3 million cut) and wrap-around services for parolees ($1.8 million cut).  
Oppose Budget Amendment 10 – CSP II Tower I
We need to allocate resources to DOC that are proven to work.
1) In Budget Amendment 10 - DOC requests $10.8 million additional funds to open one tower at CSP II for a total of 316 additional Admistrative Segration (ad-seg) beds.   These beds are “super-max” beds and inmates are locked down 23 hours a day, 7 days a week in solitary confinement.
 DOC currently has approximately 1,100 ad-seg beds throughout various prisons. This number represents approximately 7% of the total numbers of state-operated DOC beds and approximately 5.3% of the total numbers of prison beds, including the private prisons.)  If Tower I of CSP II is opened, the total number of permanent ad-seg beds in Colorado will be 9.5% of state-operated beds and 6.9% of total bed count including private prisons.  The national average for number of inmates in an Ad Seg bed or Super-Max beds is 1.8 to 2% .
The reasons DOC articulates for spending these millions are (as presented in Budget Amendment 10):
·         Increase in gang population
·         Increase in offender on offender assaults
·         Increase in offender homicides
DOC administrators have also verbally referred to “increase in inmate on staff assaults.”
If opened, DOC says CSP II would allow for “the right offender in the right bed with the right resources.” DOC says these ad-seg beds are MORE IMPORTANT THAN any other offender services or programs and more ad-seg prison beds will make offenders and staff safer.
·         Homicides have not increased. Analysis of DOC data on homicides for the years 1983 through 2008 report homicides numbers as high as 4 in 2004 and 3 in 1992, 1998 and 2006 and no decrease in homicides related to opening of ad-seg units in 1995 and 1999. Further, there is no evidence that there is any correlation between the 3 recent homicides and lack of ad-seg beds. CCJRC in now way diminishes the tragedy of these murders but the data indicates that they are not historically anomalous.
·         The rate of “inmate on inmate” assaults and “inmate on staff” assaults fluctuated before the opening of CSP in 1994. After opening CSP, there was a slight decrease in inmate assaults but that was temporary. Since then, even with the opening of the expansion of CSP in 1999, inmate assaults have fluctuated. The historical DOC data doesn’t support the DOC’s assertion that opening CSP II will dramatically reduce the number of inmate assaults.  
Colorado can not” segregate” its way to safety. Programs, adequate and well-trained staff, and mental health services are more effective in promoting the safety of both inmates and staff and humanely treating inmates with mental illness. 
2) In a 2008 report, DOC reported the 37% of the inmates in Ad Seg were classified as Offenders with Mentally Illness (OMI). It was also reported that the more severe the mental illness, the greater the likelihood that the offender would be placed in ad-seg.
There was a 40% increase between FY 2001 and FY 2004 in the proportion of OMI in Ad Seg which coincided with the last budget cuts to state agencies, which reduced mental health services in prison.  
At least two federal courts have ruled that housing seriously mentally ill inmates in ad-seg is a violation of the 8th Amendment as cruel and unusual punishment.
If the OMI population was removed from ad-seg and provided with mental health treatment in a less restrictive setting, there would be sufficient beds at CSP to house the 119 inmates reported by the DOC to be on an ad-seg “wait list”. This can be done at a much lower cost. However, CCJRC’s position is that DOC is currently overusing ad-seg and that both placement and release criteria needs to be thoroughly reviewed.
Please join CCJRC, ACLU-CO, the state Public Defender and the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar Association in OPPOSING this incredible waste of taxpayer dollars, and misplaced spending priorities by the Department of Corrections.
Please call members of the Joint Budget Committee and the Governor’s Office before Friday, March 12, 2010 and urge them VOTE “NO” ON FUNDING FOR THE OPENING OF CSP II.
Governor Ritter, 303-866-2471 (To send Governor Ritter and email, go to www.colorado.gov/governor. Scroll down to “Contact the Governor’s Office” and click on “write to the Governor”. 
Members of the Joint Budget Committee
Chair Representative Jack Pommer (D-Boulder) (chair), 303.866.2780 jack.pommer.house@state.co.us
Senator Mo Keller, (D-Jefferson) (vice-chair), 303.866.2585 moe.keller.senate@state.co.us
Representative Mark Ferrandino (D-Denver), 303.866.2911, mferrandino@yahoo.com
Representative Kent Lambert (R-Colorado Springs), 303-866.2937, rep.kent.lambert@comcast.net
Senator Abel Tapia, (D-Pueblo) 303.866.2581, abel.tapia.senate@state.co.us
Senator Al White, (R-Routt, Jackson, Moffat, Rio Blanco, Garfield, Eagle), 303-866.2586, senatorwhite@earthlink.net
WE NEED TO BUILD STRONG COMMUNITY OPPOSITION. Any organization or faith community that would like to be added to the coalition of organizations opposing the opening of CSP II, contact pam@ccjrc.org.