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.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Locked Up and Shipped Away

Locked up and Shipped Away: Interstate Prisoner Transfers & the Private Prison Industry

Holly Kirby  /  Grassroots Leadership  /  November 18, 2013

Executive Summary

Grassroots Leadership is a 33-year-old Southern-based national social justice organization that works to end for-profit incarceration and reduce reliance on criminalization and detention through direct action, organizing, research, and public education. For the past 13 years, Grassroots Leadership has worked with criminal justice reform, faith, labor, social justice, human rights, civil liberties, and student organizations to build bridges between communities to increase the capacity of local leaders and coalitions, mobilize opposition to privatization of prisons, and transform the immigration and justice systems.
As part of the ongoing efforts to create truly just public safety policy, this report examines state governments’ practice of transferring incarcerated people out of their home states to for-profit private prisons across the United States.

Major Findings

  • Interstate transfer of prisoners, or the practice of transferring incarcerated people to out-of-state prisons, is detrimental criminal justice policy that hurts families. The practice impedes prisoner rehabilitation by diminishing prisoners’ ties to family and community, compromising rather than enhancing the public good.
  • Interstate transfers of prisoners to private for-profit prisons serve the interests of an industry that views prisoners as commodities and perpetuate our nation’s mass incarceration crisis.
  • Today there are more than 10,500 state prisoners incarcerated in private for-profit prisons outside of their home states.
  • Currently, four states – California, Vermont, Idaho, and Hawai’i – house prisoners in out-of-state private prisons, while West Virginia is moving forward with a plan that could move up to 400 prisoners to private out-of-state prisons.[1]
  • With little public scrutiny, state officials have pointed to overcrowding as justification for sending incarcerated people to out-of-state prisons, rather than prioritizing decarceration and sustainable alternatives to incarceration to address prison overcrowding.
  • The lack of state laws regulating interstate transfers of prisoners has allowed state officials to send incarcerated people to out-of-state private prisons en masse without their consent.
  • Currently, prisoners in out-of-state private facilities are held approximately 450 miles to nearly 3,000 miles from their home states.
  • Using the most recent available contracts and government reports, we estimate that states will collectively spend hundreds of millions of dollars this year incarcerating state prisoners in private prisons outside of their home states.
Section I of this report provides a brief history of the private prison industry, including how private prison corporations have raked in enormous profits from mass incarceration in the United States. In Section II we discuss the lack of uniform laws regulating the leasing of prison beds from private prison corporations, both in and out-of-state. The paucity of laws, coupled with the latitude granted to the private prison industry, enables the mass interstate transfer of incarcerated people. Section III provides an overview of today’s interstate prisoner transfer landscape, including details on which states currently have prisoners in out-of-state private prisons. We provide information on state spending and Corrections Corporation of America revenues for out-of-state private prison contracts. In Section IV we describe how the transfer of prisoners out of their home states undermines family connections and prisoner rehabilitation. In Section V we discuss oversight and liability issues for state agencies and private prison companies related to the interstate transfer of prisoners. Finally, Section VI provides our recommendations. We urge states to prioritize the return of incarcerated people currently housed out-of-state by taking steps to reduce their prison populations and passing legislation that bans the exportation of incarcerated people from their home states, particularly to for-profit private prisons.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Half a life in solitary: How Colorado made a young man insane

The Atlantic

The story of Sam Mandez is appalling on so many different levels it's hard to know where to begin. Convicted for a murder no one has ever proven he committed, sentenced to life without parole at the age of 18 because the judge and jury had no other choice, confined for 16 years in solitary for petty offenses in prison, made severely mentally ill by prison policies and practices, left untreated in that condition year after year by state officials, Mandez personifies the self-defeating cruelty of America's prisons today.
And yet Mandez is not alone in his predicament. All over the nation, in state prisons and federal penitentiaries, officials are failing or refusing to adequately diagnose and treat inmates who are or who are made mentally ill by their confinements. The dire conditions in which these men and women are held, the deliberate indifference with which they are treated, do not meet constitutional standards. And yet there are thousands like Mandez, symbols of one of the most shameful episodes in American legal history.
The Crime
On July 26, 1992, an elderly woman named Frida Winter was murdered in her home in Greeley, Colorado. The police recovered fingerprints from the scene and later found some of Winter's things in a culvert near her home. But for years the investigation went nowhere in large part because it was flawed in nearly every way. Other fingerprints from Winter's home were not recovered. Leads were not adequately pursued. Logical suspects were not properly questioned. At the time of Winter's death, Sam Mandez was 14 years old.
Four years later, the police caught what they considered a break. Fingerprints from Winter's home finally found a match in a police database—and the match was Sam Mandez, who had just turned 18. They brought him in for intense questioning. But Mandez had a strong alibi. He and his grandfather had painted part of Winter's home in 1991, a year before her death. There was good reason for his prints to have been on the window that was broken on the night of Winter's death. Mandez had been in trouble with the law before—but never for a violent crime.
There were no eyewitnesses. There was no confession. There was no evidence of any kind that Mandez had murdered Winter. But there was one other link between them. Among the items recovered from that culvert after Winter's death was a matchbook from a business in Henderson, Nevada. The Mandez family had relatives there. The cops said this proved that Mandez had been inside Winter's house on the night of her death: He had burglarized her home, and thus, under a dubious extension of Colorado law, he was necessarily guilty of first-degree murder.
The Trial
The trial of Sam Mandez was a travesty. Prosecutors could have processed him through the juvenile justice system—he was only 14 at the time of his alleged crime, remember—but chose instead to charge him as an adult under Colorado's felony-murder rule. That rule is a legal contrivance  created by state lawmakers to broaden the scope of murder laws. Under it, any death occurring during the commission of a felony makes every defendant committing that felony susceptible to a charge of first-degree murder.
So prosecutors did not need to prove at trial that Mandez had murdered Winter or even that he intended to murder Winter. They did not need to solve the crime for jurors. What they did need to do was observe the constitutional command of Brady v. Maryland, which forbids prosecutors from withholding evidence that could exculpate the defendant. They failed—a critical prosecution witness changed his story at the last minute, but that fact was not disclosed to Mandez's lawyer until the witness had testified. A foul, sure, but no harm, the court ruled.*

Monday, November 11, 2013

New rule requires parity for mental health

The Denver Post

WASHINGTON — Health insurance companies now must cover mental illness and substance abuse just as they cover physical diseases.
The Obama administration issued new regulations Friday that spell out how a 5-year-old mental health parity law will be administered.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the rule should put an end to discrimination faced by some mental health patients through higher out-of-pocket costs or stricter limits on hospital stays or visits to the doctor.
The law, signed by President George W. Bush, was designed to prevent that. But mental health advocates said health insurers at times sidestepped lawmakers' intentions by delaying requests for care and putting in place other bureaucratic hurdles.

Governor Hickenlooper pushes parole funding increase

the denver post

Gov. John Hickenlooper wants to increase spending on parole operations by 25 percent in the next fiscal year — a move that could lead to more parole officers, an overhaul of re-entry services and more treatment for parolees.
The governor's proposed state budget would increase parole spending by $10 million to bring the total amount spent up to $49.4 million.
In budget documents, officials with the Colorado Department of Corrections said they still are forming a plan to spend the proposed funding.
"Division resources, structure, and operations, in some instances, are not properly positioned to manage the significant risk inherent with the parole population," department officials state in the documents.
They add: "Current facility/re-entry preparation is inadequate to ameliorate offenders sufficiently to meet the demands of parole."
Steve Hager, interim director of the parole division, declined requests for comment. Corrections spokesman Roger Hudson said Hager is waiting until plans for spending the money are finalized. Officials hope the final plan will be ready for submission to the legislature by Jan. 15, Hudson said.
"We're very interested to see what they come up with," said State Sen. Pat Steadman, a Denver Democrat who is chairman of the Joint Budget Committee, which recommends funding priorities for the legislature. Lawmakers must approve any funding increase before it becomes final.

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