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, July 18, 2014

U.S. Sentencing Commission cuts prison terms for 46,000 inmates


he U.S. Sentencing Commission voted Friday to slash sentences for 46,000 inmates serving time for drug offenses, the latest move in a concerted effort by state and federal officials to ease decades-old policies that have clogged jails and prisons.
If the move is not blocked by Congress, more than two-thirds of federal prisoners incarcerated for drug crimes will be eligible for sentence reductions averaging more than two years.

Atty. Gen Eric H. Holder Jr. originally asked the commission, a group of judges and other lawyers who establish sentencing policies, to take a much narrower approach that would affect just 20,000 inmates.
But Holder said Friday he supports the new policy. “This is a milestone in the effort to make more efficient use of our law enforcement resources and to ease the burden on our overcrowded prison system, ” he said in a statement.

Judge Patti B. Saris, chair of the commission, said, “This amendment received unanimous support from commissioners because it is a measured approach. It reduces prison costs and populations, and responds to statutory and guidelines changes since the drug guidelines were initially developed, while safeguarding public safety.”
No prisoner would be released until a judge reviews their case to determine whether a reduced sentence poses a risk to public safety.
The House and Senate would have to vote by Nov. 1 to block the plan. But there has been bipartisan support in both houses for a broad change in prison policies.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Study Finds Racial Disparity in Prosecutions

The New York Times

Black and Hispanic defendants are more likely to be held in jail before trial and more likely to be offered plea bargains that include a prison sentence than whites and Asians charged with the same crimes, according to a two-year study of prosecutions handled by the Manhattan district attorney’s office.
The study, by the Vera Institute of Justice, found that race was a significant factor at nearly every stage of criminal prosecutions in Manhattan, from setting bail to negotiating a plea deal to sentencing.
But race was not the sole factor, the study’s authors said. A number of legal considerations were found to be more important in predicting a defendant’s fate, among them the seriousness of the charge and the defendant’s arrest record.
Nicholas Turner, the president of the institute, said researchers could not determine what caused the unequal treatment. “It could be implicit bias,” he said. “It could also be race-neutral policies that end up having a particular disparate effect.”
The Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., said he was concerned that racial disparities had cropped up, especially in the areas of pretrial detention and sentencing. He promised to move forward with “implicit bias” training for his assistants to guard against unconscious prejudices in their decision-making.
“I’m glad to know the information,” Mr. Vance said in an interview. “It’s more important that we find out, ask the question and deal directly with what is uncovered, rather than failing to ask the question at all.”
Funded by the Justice Department, the study grew out of Mr. Vance’s campaign promise to determine whether race played a role in the decisions of prosecutors. In a rare move, his office opened its books to the institute’s analysts for 2010 and 2011 and gave them unfettered access.
The study is one of the largest of its kind to be done in the United States, and its findings echoed what smaller studies had found in places like Milwaukee. The authors examined 222,542 resolved prosecutions over two years, scrutinizing data for all misdemeanors and a selection of felonies, including drug offenses.
The report comes at a time of heightened public debate across the nation about whether the criminal justice system treats people of different races equally. That debate drove the legal battle over the stop-and-frisk program in New York City and has prompted the United States attorney general to order an examination of federal convictions and sentencing guidelines.
“It is consistent with other studies,” Don Stemen, an associate professor of criminology at Loyola University in Chicago, said. “Even when controlling for all these legal factors, race still has an impact.”
One of the starkest disparities emerged in the prosecution of misdemeanor drug crimes like possession of marijuana or cocaine. The study found blacks were 27 percent more likely than whites to receive jail or prison time for misdemeanor drug offenses, while Hispanic defendants were 18 percent more likely to be incarcerated for those crimes.

The study’s authors, Besiki Luka Kutateladze and Nancy R. Andiloro, looked at five key points in a criminal case when prosecutors have significant discretion. They examined the prosecutor’s decisions about which cases to accept, which to dismiss, what to recommend at bail hearings, what plea bargains to offer and what sentences to recommend.
Race turned out to be a statistically significant factor at every stage, save the initial decision to accept cases, the study found.
Blacks were 10 percent more likely than whites to be remanded to jail before trial or to be unable to make bail. Asians fared even better than whites when it came to remaining free before trial: 24 percent of white defendants were detained, but only 14 percent of Asians were held.
Prosecutors were also found to be more likely to offer black and Hispanic defendants plea deals on misdemeanors that included jail time. Forty percent of black defendants and 36 percent of Hispanic defendants were offered plea deals involving incarceration, rather than probation or community service. That ratio for whites was 33 percent, and for Asians, 17 percent.
At sentencing, blacks were also found to be slightly more likely to be sentenced to jail than whites and Latinos, with Asians significantly less likely to receive jail terms.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Naional Blueprint for Drug Policy Reform

National Blueprint for Drug Policy Reform

Can't believe this is on the White House website.

Today, we will unveil the latest update to President Obama’s plan for reducing drug use and its consequences, the 2014 National Drug Control Strategy. This Strategy, which continues to be shaped by the input of people across the country like you, rejects the notion that we can arrest and incarcerate our way out of the nation’s drug problem. Instead, it builds on decades of research demonstrating that while law enforcement should always remain a vital piece to protecting public safety, addiction is a brain disorder—one that can be prevented and treated, and from which people recover.
 Watch the release of the Strategy live today, Wednesday, July 9th, at 10 a.m. EST.
Data have shown that in several major U.S. counties, crime and substance use are linked. Most recently, we saw that in five counties, one-third or more of adult male arrestees tested positive for an illicit substance at the time of their arrest. Only one-quarter or fewer of all arrestees had ever participated in any outpatient drug or alcohol treatment and less than 30% had ever participated in any inpatient drug or alcohol treatment. Many of these men will be caught in a painful cycle of arrest, incarceration, substance use disorders, and re-arrest. Our prisons and jails are already overcrowded with people who desperately need compassionate, evidence-based treatment for the disease of addiction--not a jail cell.
The plan we released today calls for reforming our criminal justice system to find alternatives to incarceration – and effective interventions across the entire system to get people the treatment they need.
Here’s the problem: far too often, for people who need it most, the criminal justice system can seem like the only way to get help for a substance use disorder. That’s because until recently, prohibitively high costs and limited access to treatment put it out of reach for millions of people in need.
We know that only about 10 percent of people with a diagnosable substance use disorder actually receives treatment at a specialty facility. While several factors contribute to this abysmal statistic, much of that disparity is owed to a lack of healthcare coverage – and that’s about to change. Through a rule made possible by the Affordable Care Act, we are requiring insurers to treat substance use disorders in the same way they would any other chronic disease. Specifically, this new rule expands coverage of mental health and substance use disorder services to 62 million Americans.
The plan we released today calls on healthcare providers to prevent and treat addictive disorders just like they would treat any other chronic disorder, like diabetes or heart disease. It calls on law enforcement, courts, and doctors to collaborate with each other to treat addiction as a public health issue, not a crime.
We chose to release the 2014 Strategy in Roanoke because, in three important ways, it’s a microcosm of the policies our office has been promoting since 2009:

  1. Access to treatment, a focus on prevention, and compassion. Roanoke is home to one of the largest behavioral healthcare centers in the region. The center is co-located with a Drug Free Communities coalition, which prevents substance use among at-risk youth, and a program called Project Link, which helps opioid-dependent women and pregnant mothers get treatment and give birth to drug-free babies.
  2. Alternatives to incarceration. In 2011, the Roanoke Police Department worked with community and faith leaders in the Hurt Park neighborhood to shut down the open-air drug market operating there and drastically reduce violent crime in the area. As part of this intervention, community leaders came together to offer the low-level, non-violent drug offenders involved in the sweep a life-changing alternative: either face prosecution and lengthy sentences, or change your lives with the support of the community. In Roanoke, I met with one of those ex-offenders who is now employed full-time and caring for his family.
  3. Local solutions for local challenges. In a corner building in downtown Roanoke operates a community action center with roots in President Lyndon Johnson’s landmark anti-poverty legislation. Half a century ago, local leaders established what is now called Total Action for Progress (TAP), which operates 30 programs in the Roanoke Valley region aimed at improving employment opportunities at-risk youth, early childhood development, and re-entry and support services for veterans. I visited TAP to speak with young people and a veteran whose lives have been changed by these programs, and was inspired by their stories of hope. 
Like the rest of the country, Roanoke has seen a devastating rise in heroin and prescription painkiller abuse. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drug overdose deaths surpass homicides and traffic crashes in the number of injury deaths in America.[1] In 2011, more than 110 Americans, on average, died from overdose every day. Prescription painkillers were involved in over 16,900 deaths that year. Heroin was involved in more than 4,300.[2]
In response to this opioid epidemic, this Strategy updates the President’s 2011 Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention Plan by calling for increased access to naloxone, a lifesaving overdose-reversal medication.
The widespread use of naloxone in the hands of law enforcement, firefighters and emergency medical personnel will save lives. It can also serve as a critical intervention point to get people into treatment and on the path to recovery.
Today, there are millions of Americans in recovery from substance use disorders who are healthy, responsible, and engaged members of their communities. The Strategy outlines steps to help lift the stigma associated with substance use disorders. It also works to reform the laws and regulations that impede recovery from substance use disorders, including those that place obstacles in the way of housing, employment, and obtaining a driver’s license or student loan because of a prior conviction for a drug-related offense.
The National Drug Control Strategy released today is rooted in the belief that illicit drug use is a public health issue, not just a criminal justice problem. As the innovative law enforcement and social support programs in Roanoke prove, this philosophy can reduce illicit drug use while building healthier, safer, more vibrant communities.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

The Seond Chance Act Proves it's Worth

The New York Times

With corrections costs exceeding $60 billion a year, state and local governments are rightly focused on making sure that newly released prisoners stay out of jail instead of coming back in through a revolving door.
The Second Chance Act, signed into law by George W. Bush in 2008, was designed to give momentum to this effort, providing money and training for states, local governments and nonprofit organizations to help former prisoners readjust to the community. But as it stands, federal government spending on Second Chance Act programs amounts to less than $100 a year for each newly released prisoner — far less than the programs need and deserve.
A new study from the National Reentry Resource Center, created under the Second Chance Act, shows that recidivism rates can be significantly reduced when states commit to jailing only people who present a risk to public safety and to helping newly released prisoners find drug treatment, psychiatric counseling and the other services they need for a successful transition to the world beyond bars.
The report compared the three-year recidivism rates for people released in 2007 to those of people released in 2010 for eight states — Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Wisconsin — and found that the percentage declines in recidivism rates ranged from 5.8 percent in Colorado to 19.3 percent in North Carolina.
North Carolina, for example, learned that probation revocations accounted for half of its prison admissions and that three-quarters of those sent to prison based on such revocations had not committed new offenses. The State Legislature enacted sweeping reforms. It intensified community supervision, and it gave probation officers better training and allowed them to use other sanctions for people who violated the rules, like punishing them with two or three days in the local jail instead of sending them back to prison for lengthy stays.
The state also established local re-entry councils that direct newly released inmates to social services to help them readjust to the community. The new measures drove down recidivism, allowing North Carolina to close nine correctional facilities, hire more probation officers and lend more support to drug treatment and other transitional programs.
The Second Chance Act has a crucial role to play by providing seed money for new reforms and helping to distinguish what works from what does not. Given the scope of the task at hand — and the fact that 700,000 people will be released from prison this year — the federal government should be spending far more than the $67.7 million that went for this purpose in the 2014 fiscal year. A higher level of expenditure would more than pay for itself in terms of lower corrections costs.