Colorado Considers Sweeping Sentencing Reform

A bill that would overhaul Colorado's sentencing laws to reduce or eliminate prison terms for non-violent offenders was introduced yesterday by State Senators Morgan Carroll and John Morse. The full text of the bill is here (pdf.)

A bill introduced yesterday by Sens. John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, and Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, takes a sweeping approach to sentencing reform by aiming to lower the degree and penalty of most non-violent crimes.


Senate Bill 286 would eliminate incarceration as a sentencing option for first-time non-violent offenders; lower sentencing ranges; allow judges the option to sentence defendants to probation, even in circumstances where they have two previous felonies; prohibit judges from sentencing criminals to jail or prison for a probation violation unless it is a new crime; cut down sentences by two days a month for good behavior; and require individuals seeking to create a new crime or increase penalties of an existing crime to present their proposal to the Colorado Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice. The measure would affect cases beginning July 1st.

Prosecutors oppose it. With only three weeks left in the legislative session, it's not clear whether it has any chance of passing. It has been introduced in both the Colorado House and Senate.

Sen. Carroll makes the case for sentencing reform here.

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    I also read... (none / 0) (#1)
    by MileHi Hawkeye on Thu Apr 16, 2009 at 10:13:56 AM EST
    ...that the House Bill to eliminate the Death Penalty made it out of committee by one vote yesterday and is going to the House floor for a vote.

    yes, but it's not expected to pass there (none / 0) (#2)
    by Jeralyn on Thu Apr 16, 2009 at 10:19:28 AM EST
    maybe we'll have good news later though. I think they are only one vote short.

    Well... (none / 0) (#4)
    by MileHi Hawkeye on Thu Apr 16, 2009 at 10:29:09 AM EST
    ...now that Pinnicle is off the table, perhaps prisons will be one of the places that they will look at for cost cutting.  Somethings got to give or we're in for a world of hurt.  

    Typical prosecutor reaction (none / 0) (#3)
    by Jeralyn on Thu Apr 16, 2009 at 10:25:54 AM EST
    Oppose the bill because someone convicted of assault might get 20 instead of 32 years which would send a message they aren't going to be held accountable for their crimes:

    Ted Tow, director of the Colorado District Attorney's Council... said the maximum penalty for aggravated assault would drop from 32 years to 20 years. He also questioned whether there would be time to consider such sweeping changes this session.

    "To minimize the sentence sends a very clear message to the criminal element that we're not going to hold you accountable for your actions," Tow said.

    ONLY 20 YEARS!? (none / 0) (#8)
    by MrConservative on Thu Apr 16, 2009 at 04:34:12 PM EST
    When the heck did 20 freaking years become a lenient sentence?  That's almost a quarter of a lifetime.

    Depends of the crime and the criminal (none / 0) (#10)
    by nyjets on Thu Apr 16, 2009 at 06:14:00 PM EST
    For example, for the lion share of murder charges, 20 years is lenient. There are some rape and assault charges where 20 years would be lenient. There are some white collar criminals where 20 years is to low.  

    If this rule were more generally adopted, (none / 0) (#5)
    by wagnert in atlanta on Thu Apr 16, 2009 at 10:56:20 AM EST
    Bernie Madoff couldn't be sent to jail -- he's a first-time offender and his offense is completely nonviolent.  Neither could Ron Blagojevich or any of the "malefactors of great wealth" you get so purple in the face about.

    "Non-violent" is just a simplification (none / 0) (#9)
    by MrConservative on Thu Apr 16, 2009 at 04:36:06 PM EST
    Usually when people say "non-violent", they mean non-violent and non-fraudulent.

    Nice write-up on the issue... (none / 0) (#6)
    by MileHi Hawkeye on Thu Apr 16, 2009 at 11:34:12 AM EST
    ...over at Morgan's website

    We are currently spending twice as much on corrections as higher education and it is now the 3 largest item in our budget and growing.  Most other states have taken similar moves as an effort to be evidence-based, smarter on crime and smarter with spending taxpayer money.  Colorado can't afford NOT to consider sentencing reform.

    Here are some facts to consider:

    It costs $30,386 per inmate per year in operating costs and $150,773 per year per inmate for capital construction.
    74% of our prison population is in for non-violent offenses.
    The Department of Corrections has become the single largest "mental health care provider" in the State of Colorado.
    Probation costs $3.42 per day to supervise whereas prison costs $78.95 per day to supervise.
    1 in 29 Colorado residents are now under correctional control.  (That figure was 1 in 102 in 1982).
    At the current rate of incarceration we would need to build a new prison every year.
    For the cost of incarcerating 1 inmate we could
    Educate 5 children in K12;
    Fund tuition for 10 students in higher education;
    Pay the full health insurance premiums for 3 families per year;
    Fund 6 Medicaid enrollees for health care;

    non-violent offenders (none / 0) (#7)
    by diogenes on Thu Apr 16, 2009 at 12:12:13 PM EST
    What proportion of those sentenced to state prison (i.e. not county jail) for "non-violent crimes" have actually committed violent crimes in the past, perhaps even being sentenced for a "non violent crime" as a plea bargain from a charge of a violent crime?  
    Sunday School teachers might accidentally and innocently get caught up in a charge that pulls probation or jail time, but state prisoners are a different breed.
    Most first-time nonviolent offenders never darken the halls of a PRISON.  Most of them get probation or county jail.