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January 5, 2007

Calls for a sentencing commission in Colorado

This article from the Rocky Mountain News reports on report from the Colorado Lawyers Committee calling for the creation of a sentencing commission in Colorado.  Here are some highlights from an encouraging piece that spotlights issues facing many states:

Colorado should look to the success other states have had as it considers forming its own sentencing commission, said Jim Scarboro of the Colorado Lawyers Committee and author of a report recommending the establishment of a commission here.... The Colorado Lawyers Committee report does not make specific recommendations for changes, but it suggests that a commission should study whether reduced sentences or nonprison sanctions could be used for nonviolent offenders, including low-level property and drug offenders, older offenders, female offenders and parolees returning to prison due to a technical violation of their release conditions....

Adams County District Attorney Don Quick, who is president of the Colorado District Attorneys Council, said he supports the idea of a sentencing commission, but said sentencing-reduction schemes must be examined carefully. "We need to get an accurate picture of who's being sent to prison before we send them out the door," he said. "We need to look at the history of those people before you say they don't pose a public-safety risk." Quick also said the state needs to do a better job of providing job training and drug treatment to prisoners who are being released. He notes that 80 percent of inmates have substance-abuse problems. "Colorado has a 50 percent recidivism rate," Quick said. "We've got to do a better job on re-entry."...

Everyone agrees that the state can't continue to pay for more and larger prisons, Quick said. "The reason this hasn't been solved is because it is a complicated issue, but it's clear that we cannot keep the status quo," he said. "We need to keep the public safe and look at better coordination and funding of resources so we can turn down the faucet on the front end and not just build a bigger bucket."

January 5, 2007 at 07:32 AM | Permalink


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Obviously Colorado has a serious problems with prison overcrowding. District Attorney Quick has noted that three important contributing factors are high recidivism rate and the related issues of job training and drug treatment. But a high incidence of mental illness (in particular for female prison inmates) and lack of adequate supervision of persons on parole/probation may be just as important.

I don't know what the situation is in Colorado but in Iowa we had persons in prison who were not paroled (either because they were poor risks or they refused parole) and were released unsupervised (this is no longer the case because of the murder of Jetsetta Gage by Roger Bentley). The set of individuals had the highest prison return rate (all on conviction on a new charge) and to make matters worse many of them were sex offenders.

The public insists on a one-size-fits-all solution to prison overcrowding (namely elimination of mandatory minimums). In Iowa prisons mandatory minimum sentences are a minor contributing factor to prison overcrowding and it is likely that that also true in Colorado. I think Mr. Quick has identified the most important factors but I suspect that lack of adequate supervision of parole/probation is also important.

Posted by: John Neff | Jan 5, 2007 8:47:23 AM

Mandatory minimums are a major factor in Colorado prison overcrowding.

Colorado has a "presumptive range" of sentences for every felony. This is modified to be a higher "presumptive range" in certain classes of crimes like crimes of violence and sex crimes and recidivist crimes.

Deviations from the presumptive range are rare. Deviations are possible in the rare "one in a hundred" kind of case, but for all intents and purposes, the presumptive range as modified for the class of offense involved is the mandatory minimum and maximum sentence for a crime.

The vast majority of Colorado's prison population growth is attributable directly to changes in substantive criminal sentences in the state.

Posted by: ohwilleke | Jan 25, 2007 7:04:14 PM

Considering how fantastic Colorado is it's disappointing that it has such regressive sentencing practices.

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