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.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Turn out THIS is who's been eating your tax dollars.


Inmate mysteriously shot while walking

The Denver Post

The Colorado Inspector General's office is investigating how an inmate at minimum security Four Mile Correctional Facility was shot in the knee while at the prison, authorities say.
The inmate, who is serving a sentence on drug charges, was shot in the knee on Aug. 21, said Colorado Department of Corrections spokeswoman Katherine Sanguinetti. The tip of the bullet was removed by surgery on Tuesday, confirming that he had been shot, Sanguinetti said.
DOC has brought in correctional officers from Pueblo and other Cañon City prisons to search the prison for a gun, she said.
"They're doing a shake down right now," Sanguinetti said. "The facility is on lock down. This is really unique to say the least. To my knowledge it's never happened before."
Sanguinetti declined to name the inmate, who told investigators he was walking around the track when he felt a sharp pain in his knee and saw the wound. She said investigators are trying to confirm his account.
"They'll look at the possibility that he was targeted. But he's just an average Joe that happens to be in prison," she said when asked whether the victim was a high-profile inmate that someone wanted to target.
She said the inmate was exercising during recreational time, when the yard is filled with as many as 300 inmates pumping iron, playing team sports or jogging around the track.
No one reported witnessing anyone firing a gun or handling a gun, Sanguinetti said.
But prison culture discourages inmates from reporting violence,, she said. "Historically prisoners are reluctant to divulge information because they don't want to be labeled as an informant."
Investigators are considering many scenarios, including that someone smuggled in a gun or someone randomly fired a rifle from a distant bluff.
"They are truly looking at all possibilities," Sanguinetti said.
Correctional officers working inside the prison are not armed. Only perimeter guards carry shotguns and rifles, she said. Four Mile is a minimum security prison so it does not have any towers overlooking the facility.
Colorado Bureau of Investigation analysts will try to narrow down the weapon by the bullet fragments.
Correctional officers are searching cells and prison grounds.
They are also searching for a weapon in surrounding barns and animal pens, where minimum security inmates milk cows and train wild mustangs in prison programs. Those inmates are strip-searched before re-entering the prison.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

130 Idaho inmates sent to Colorado

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The Idaho Department of Correction has flown 130 inmates to a prison in Colorado because Idaho's prison don't have enough room to hold the state's growing inmate population.

The inmates were flown Tuesday morning on a chartered jet to Denver, and from there they took a bus to the Kit Carson Correctional Center in Burlington, Colo. The prison is owned and operated by Corrections Corporation of America.

Idaho's inmate population reached more than 8,000 for the first time in April. The Department of Correction has been renting beds in county jails to ease the pressure, but that wasn't enough to accommodate the demand.

Department Director Brent Reinke says the move is hard on families, but the state is simply out of room.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Longtime inmate carves out new life with help of program

The Denver Post

There are moments when Michael Wentz is gripped by overwhelming dread.
He'll be walking on a sidewalk in a grassy neighborhood and suddenly panic, sensing he must have broken some rule that would cast him in a punitive-segregation cell at Sterling Correctional Facility, where he has spent most of his life. Then he remembers: He has been legally released from prison and is on his own.
It isn't easy adjusting to freedom after spending 27 years in prison.
Still, with all the pressures of beginning a new life, Wentz, 45, has been able to accomplish goals that until months ago seemed abstract and unattainable. He has done it with assistance from a Colorado Department of Corrections program that helps prisoners adjust to life outside of prison.
State officials believe supporting him in this transition from prison to freedom could have societal benefits, including safer streets. It could help Wentz avoid future missteps that could land him in prison again.
"I want to be an asset to society, not a deficit," Wentz said.
In 1985, Wentz was locked up for good reason.
The then-19-year-old Army soldier and his brother, Theodore, who was two years older, beat up a man they found walking toward a gay bar in Colorado Springs. At the time, Wentz said, he hated gays, in his mind grouping them together with an uncle who had molested him.
The brothers had lured the man into an alley where Theodore hit him over the head from behind with a bat, Wentz said. They drove the man in his own car to a remote area of El Paso County, where Theodore stabbed him five times, he said. The man survived the attack.
The last time a reporter from The Denver Post spoke with him, Wentz was sitting in a circle of convicts deep within Sterling's "kill fence" in June 2011. The group of men participating in the "pilot" Lifetime Offender Program exchanged ideas about how to survive prison release to freedom after spending most of their lives behind bars.
"When I was in there, I told myself I have these goals in life and I wasn't going to let what I did in the past dictate what I would do in the future," Wentz said. "I didn't let anything stand in my way."
The weekly meetings helped prepare him for his release from Sterling in March to a halfway house.
Since his release, Wentz has been meeting with prison mentors every other week. During his first day of intensive supervision, he was confused about curfew and his limits and called another inmate who explained the rules to him.
He applied for and was hired at Pelsue Co., an Englewood engineering and manufacturing firm. He also got a job as a tattoo artist at Endless Ink Tattoo and Spa near Interstate 70 and Quebec Street.
Pelsue, which retrofits vans for utility companies and manufactures safety equipment and tents that go over manholes during maintenance work, hired him to help retrofit vans by installing clean laboratories used in the field by utility-company workers as they perform tasks such as fiber-optic splicing.
Wentz said that when he came to Pelsue, he didn't expect special privileges because of his publicized talent as a graphic artist that he had developed in prison. Many of the walls inside Sterling are covered with giant murals he painted. Wentz's paintings sold in galleries for as much as $2,000.
Wentz was a quick learner who eagerly worked overtime when called upon, said his former supervisor, Jose Rodriguez. Pelsue is a relatively small company and can't afford to have employees who are dead weight, Rodriguez said.
"He's very smart," Rodriguez said of Wentz. "He has a great attitude. He never complains and did whatever I asked."
In a few months, Wentz moved to a position in the company's fabrication shop. He was a full-time employee, getting medical benefits and paid vacations.
In May, another position came open.
Wentz got the job, which usually required applicants to have a college degree in drafting or engineering. In prison, he had earned an associate's degree in computer-aided drafting, but most of the computer software he uses to create schematic drawings he had taught himself to use.
On his computer, he has created three-dimensional drawings of how Pelsue products are assembled. He has created realistic drawings of products yet to be built.
In the afternoon, he dons another hat and works in the marketing office. He has been redesigning the company's catalog, giving it more of a commercial feel rather than an institutional one. He has quite an eye for it, said Pelsue chief executive Mark Pelsue.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Colorado Death Penalty Law Unconstitutional

The Denver Post

Colorado prosecutors could seek the death penalty in the vast majority of first-degree murder cases in the state but instead pursue it so infrequently that the state's capital-punishment system is unconstitutionally arbitrary, three law professors argue in a new study.
The conclusion could be earth-shaking for the Colorado criminal-justice system, at a time when prosecutors in Arapahoe County are deciding whether to pursue the death penalty against Aurora shooting suspect James Eagan Holmes. It could have more direct implications in the looming death-penalty sentencing hearing of Edward Montour — whose defense team initiated the study and included it in a motion.
"This is a groundbreaking study," said David Lane, one of Montour's defense attorneys.
Colorado law says a person must be convicted of first-degree murder, the most serious murder charge, and also meet an extra aggravating factor to be eligible for a death sentence. To conduct the study, the professors — in a first-of-its-kind effort in Colorado — assembled a list of all homicide cases between 1999 and 2010, then identified which of those cases were first-degree murder cases.
The study finds that 92 percent of the state's 544 first-degree murder cases in that time span contained at least one of the aggravating factors that make the case eligible for the death penalty. But prosecutors filed notices of intent to seek the death penalty in only 15 murder cases during that span and pursued the death penalty at trial in only five of those cases — a 1 percent rate among death-eligible cases.
"Under the Colorado capital sentencing system," the authors write in their report, "many defendants are eligible but almost none are actually sentenced to death. Because Colorado's aggravating factors so rarely result in actual death sentences, their use in any given case is a violation of the Eighth Amendment."
The Eighth Amendment prohibits cruel and unusual punishment.
The study was conducted by University of Denver law professors Justin Marceau and Sam Kamin and Rowan University professor Wanda Foglia with funds provided by Montour's defense team.
Montour, who pleaded guilty to killing Colorado Department of Corrections Officer Eric Autobee, is facing the possibility of a death-penalty sentencing hearing as early as the end of this year.
Montour's team has now included the new study into a motion asking a judge to cancel Montour's sentencing hearing and find the Colorado death- penalty law unconstitutional.
Prosecutors from the 18th Judicial District attorney's office, which is handling Montour's case, have not yet had a chance to respond to the motion.
"A preliminary report has been filed by the defense regarding a motion that is presently pending before the Montour court," Chief Deputy District Attorney John Topolnicki said in a statement. "The merits of the defense motion are yet to be decided and are being contested by the prosecution."
John Ingold: 303-954-1068, jingold@denverpost.c

Read more: Colorado death penalty law unconstitutional, study contends - The Denver Post http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_21243404/colorado-death-penalty-law-unconstitutional-study-contends#ixzz22lsYXnzy
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Sunday, August 05, 2012

County Jails Struggling With More Mentally Ill Inmates

The Denver Post

As county jails across the state face a quickly growing population of mentally ill inmates, the Adams County Sheriff's Office is looking for money to create a specialized unit to house those prisoners.
The Sheriff's Office has asked for funding either to renovate an unused portion of the jail for about $1.5 million or to build a new wing at a cost of about $3 million to house the most uncontrolled mentally ill inmates.
"It would give us an opportunity to have a unit where they can be efficiently seen by, treated by, our mental-health staff," said Adams County Sheriff Doug Darr. "When we have this many people coming in with these issues, it tells us something's wrong and we need to be on top of it."
The Adams County commissioners have asked for more information from the Sheriff's Office but aren't scheduled to take up the discussion any time soon.
Although the Adams County jail may be the only large county jail on the Front Range without a unit for the mentally ill inmates, Darr isn't the only one who wishes he had more space.
"There's an increase in people coming to jail with mental-health issues, and the mental-health issues we're having to manage are more severe," said Bruce Haas, administrative commander for the Boulder County Jail. "We have people in disciplinary housing units that belong in special housing units. There's more demand than we have space."
Haas said officials at the Boulder jail are also starting to explore options to find more room.
The two options Darr's staff has proposed would allow deputies to move mentally ill inmates from the shared infirmary unit of 15 double-bunked cells to a separate unit with 16 double-bunked cells.
Abigail Tucker, a psychologist who runs one of the support programs at the Adams County jail, said a bipolar inmate who was in detox once spent 12 hours screaming right next to irritated inmates who were physically sick and trying to rest.
"It's about making sure both are getting well," Tucker said. "Some people just have different needs."
Crowding the unstable inmates also creates a safety issue.
"Often we have inmates with severe mental illness coming in with minor charges, but while here they end up assaulting our officers and staff and rack up charges more serious than what they came in for," said Capt. Kurt Ester, commander of the Adams County jail.
But mentally ill inmates can also be the targets of violence.
"People that are mentally ill are sometimes vulnerable or potential victims. We don't want to put them in a position where they're going to be teased or abused," said Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle.
Though the state doesn't regulate many county jail operations, most large jails follow similar processes based on published national best practices.
Screening can start with the officers or deputies on the street, or when suspects are booked in the jail.
Staff members who range from certified nurses in Adams County to counseling staff in Jefferson County undertake the first evaluations on every inmate entering the jail.
Any warning sign of a mental condition or a previous diagnosis will earn inmates a referral, but screening staff prioritize the needs so that inmates who may have more severe problems are seen first — often within 24 hours.
That appointment is meant to be a more thorough screening, but at some jails, such as in Jefferson County, getting another referral to a psychologist who can make an official diagnosis and prescribe any needed medication can take up to two more weeks.
Haas, the administrative commander in the Boulder jail, points out that prescriptions aren't a solution if inmates refuse to take them.
"Jails do not have the legal ability — even if a psychologist has prescribed medication — to force inmates to take that medication," Haas said. "Often that's when we see the greatest volatility."
If a judge orders an inmate to a state hospital for an evaluation before trial, staff there can involuntarily medicate inmates to stabilize them, Haas said.
Inmates who aren't flagged in those initial steps also have the opportunity to send private messages to mental-health staff at any point during their stay.
Deputies, family members or other staff who notice irregular behavior also can flag an inmate for an evaluation.
Inmates who are transferred to the special housing units — or in Adams County's case, the infirmary — might then be evaluated daily to determine if they have become stable enough to transfer to the general population to make room for other incoming inmates who may have higher needs that day.
"Ultimately, the state and the counties have to do something different," Boulder Sheriff Pelle said. "When there's no more state hospital beds or there's a severe shortage, it takes a long time to get someone in for treatment. In the meantime, jail is an expensive alternative."
Yesenia Robles: 303-954-1372, yrobles@denverpost.com or twitter.com/yeseniarobles

Inmates seek counseling

Metro-area jails keep track of inmates with mental-health issues. In this list, the first number represents the percentage of all inmates with clinical diagnoses, such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. The second number, which was not reported by all jails, is the percentage of inmates seeking mental-health counseling for any reason.
Adams: 22 percent
Arapahoe: 7 percent; 22 percent
Boulder: 35 percent
Denver: 3 percent; 60 percent
Jefferson: 16 percent
Douglas: 37 percent

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Immigrants Prove Big Business for Prison Companies

the Denver Post
MIAMI—The U.S. is locking up more illegal immigrants than ever, generating lucrative profits for the nation's largest prison companies, and an Associated Press review shows the businesses have spent tens of millions of dollars lobbying lawmakers and contributing to campaigns.
The cost to American taxpayers is on track to top $2 billion for this year, and the companies are expecting their biggest cut of that yet in the next few years thanks to government plans for new facilities to house the 400,000 immigrants detained annually.
After a decade of expansion, the sprawling, private system runs detention centers everywhere from a Denver suburb to an industrial area flanking Newark's airport, and is largely controlled by just
three companies. The growth is far from over, despite the sheer drop in illegal immigration in recent years.
In 2011, nearly half the beds in the nation's civil detention system were in private facilities with little federal oversight, up from just 10 percent a decade ago.
The financial boom, which has helped save some of these companies from the brink of bankruptcy, has occurred even though federal officials acknowledge privatization isn't necessarily cheaper.
This seismic shift toward a privatized system happened quietly. While Congress' unsuccessful efforts to overhaul immigration laws drew headlines and sparked massive demonstrations, lawmakers' negotiations to boost detention dollars received far less attention.
The industry's giants—Corrections Corporation of America, The GEO Group, and Management and Training Corp.—have spent at least $45 million combined on campaign donations and lobbyists at the state and federal level in the last decade, the AP found.
CCA and GEO, who manage most private detention centers, insist they aren't trying to influence immigration policy to make more money, and their lobbying and campaign donations have been legal.
"As a matter of long-standing

corporate policy, CCA does not lobby on issues that would determine the basis for an individual's detention or incarceration," CCA spokesman Steve Owen said in an email to the AP. The company has a website dedicated to debunking such allegations. GEO, which was part of The Wackenhut Corp. security firm until 2003, and Management and Training Corp. declined repeated interview requests.
Advocates for immigrants are skeptical the lobbying is not meant to influence policy.
"That's a lot of money to listen quietly," said Peter Cervantes-Gautschi, who has helped lead a campaign to encourage large banks and mutual funds to divest from the prison companies.
The detention centers are located in cities and remote areas
alike, often in low-slung buildings surrounded by chain-link fences and razor wire. U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agents detain men, women and children suspected of violating civil immigration laws at these facilities. Most of those held at the 250 sites nationwide are illegal immigrants awaiting deportation, but some green card holders, asylum seekers and others are also there. The total average nightly cost to taxpayers to detain an illegal immigrant, including health care and guards' salaries, is about $166, ICE confirmed only after the AP calculated that figure and presented it to the agency.
That's up from $80 in 2004. ICE said the $80 didn't include all of the same costs but declined to provide details.
Pedro Guzman is among those who have passed through the private detention centers. He was brought to the U.S. by his Guatemalan mother at age 8. He was working and living here legally under temporary protected status but was detained after missing an appearance for an asylum application. Officials ordered him deported.
Although he was married to a U.S. citizen, ICE considered him a flight risk and locked him up in 2009: first at a private detention facility run by CCA in Gainesville, Ga., and eventually at CCA's Stewart Detention Center, south of Atlanta. Guzman spent 19 months in Stewart until he was finally granted legal permanent residency.
"It's a millionaire's business, and they are living off profits from each one of the people who go through there every single night," said Guzman, now a cable installer in Durham, N.C. "It's our money that we earn as taxpayers every day that goes to finance this."
The federal government stepped up detentions of illegal immigrants in the 1990s, as the number of people crossing the border soared. In 1996, Congress passed a law requiring many more illegal immigrants be locked up. But it wasn't until 2005—as the corrections companies' lobbying efforts reached their zenith—that ICE got a major boost. Between 2005 and 2007, the agency's budget jumped from $3.5 billion to $4.7 billion, adding more than $5 million for custody operations.
Dora Schriro, who in 2009 reviewed the nation's detention system at the request of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, said nearly every aspect had been outsourced.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Volunteer Opportunity

The Colorado Innocence Project at CU Law is looking for a part time volunteer project coordinator. The position is in Boulder at the Law School. We are looking for someone for 15 / 20 hours a week. The person would assist in organizing and running the office, coordinating our student volunteers, screening applications, creating and organizing the flow of paperwork and files and working with our board. We are looking for someone who is a organized and has experience running a busy office and high tolerance and enjoyment of working with students and chaos. We are looking for  a commitment of a year.  The person does not need legal experience but we need someone who has a compassion for and an understanding of working with people who are incarcerated and have been convicted of very serious crimes including murder and sexual assault.

If anyone is interested please email me at ann.england@colorado.edu