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January 27, 2007

Will serious sentencing reform come to Colorado?

Though California's sentencing woes and need for reform are making lots of headlines, this news article from Colorado highlights another state trying to start on needed reforms:

The state legislature will look at reforming Colorado prison sentences this session, breaking a longtime taboo in state politics. "We will make a significant attempt at some kind of sentencing reform," Rep. Terrance Carroll D-Denver, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said Friday.  He said his committee would be looking at a recent report from the Colorado Lawyers Committee that called for creation of a sentencing reform commission to propose changes.

Carroll said the state's new Democratic governor, Bill Ritter, is interested.  Evan Dreyer, the governor's spokesman, said Ritter, a longtime prosecutor, "is interested in taking a closer look at many aspects of the criminal justice system," with emphasis on reducing recidivism....

Carroll spoke after a news conference about halting Colorado's soaring growth in prisoners. The gathering brought together a disparate group of supporters, including the free-market Independence Institute, Democratic legislators, the sheriff from conservative Colorado Springs and prison reformers.

The state expects to add more than 6,000 prisoners by 2011, requiring $800 million in prison construction. That figure is more than twice the amount Colorado expects to have for all capital construction other than roads during that period of time. A number of officials have concluded the state cannot afford it....

Carroll called state sentencing laws "byzantine" because they are so complex. Lawyers and judges often debate in court how indecipherable laws interact to mandate a particular sentence, said Maureen Cain of the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar.  She cited a client who has been successfully managing probation for three years, supporting his children and passing his drug tests - but who is about to be sent to prison because he cannot afford his probation fees.

January 27, 2007 at 10:22 AM | Permalink

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