Correcting Corrections, Part 2

On Thursday Rep. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, sponsored a forum on the many issues surrounding criminal corrections.

In the first part state officials opined on contemporary problems and solutions, especially regarding recidivism and prevention.  This segment includes the other two panelists–Christie Donner with Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition (CCJRC) and Attorney General John Suthers–speaking their minds on the issues.Christie Donner, CCJRC

The Criminal Justice Reform Coalition was founded in 1999 and includes over one hundred organizations concerned with corrections policies and privatization.

Donner started by speaking on the impact and limitations of the corrections in Colorado.  She also stressed a preference for alternative measures and services outside of the criminal justice system.

“Please, if anyone ever…whether it’s a politician or a professional or anyone…says to you that the answer to reducing crime in our communities is simply to ‘get tough,’ please tell them to answer that,” she said.

Getting tough can also mean focusing on health care and education Donner said, while noting that such services have been defunded to support corrections.

She also commented that when services are offered, they are only available after incarceration and not before, making prevention very difficult.

“Most of the dollars that are invested in substance abuse and mental health are tied to the criminal justice system. So you have to get busted in order to access services,” said Donner.

Another aspect that was touched upon was the the simple fact that most inmates who go to prison will be released eventually. That means individuals who are looking for income and shelter.

“People are coming out and they are not prepared. They are not able to find jobs, they are not able to find housing,” said Donner. “They can’t afford all of the expectations in terms of fines, fees, costs, [urinary analyses], classes, ankle monitors, all these things.”

Attorney General John Suthers

Suthers stuck with a theme of public safety, but he also spoke about how he would support the new criminal justice commision in different ways.

After commenting that he was in a good mood due to the Joe Nacchio conviction, Suthers then commented on prison populations rising dramatically due to the doubling of many state sentences in the 1980s and the implementation of mandatory minimum sentences.

The Attorney General pointed out that that some might be surprised on where he stands regarding corrections. One example cited was that he supports life sentences with parole to ease burdens on prisons.

“However, telling that to the victim, that the parents of the victim who have been deprived of their child for the rest of their lives that this guy gets to see the light of day again some time is not an easy message,” Suthers said. “I happen to think its something we might consider.”

Suthers also said he supports giving more discretion to judges, and that released inmates are less likely to return to prison if they stay out of trouble during their first year in society. That is another reason why the Attorney General said he approves of educating inmates.

But Suthers also noted political reactions to such programs where inmates used to qualify for Pell Grants.

“But think about all the Colorado taxpayers who are struggling to send their kids to college and they read in the newspaper that the state of Colorado is paying to send inmates to college. It didn’t go over very well,” he said, despite his belief that it would actually save money to implement such programs.

Another factor Suthers mentioned was that two-thirds of Colorado inmates have never lived with their natural fathers, and noted the need for a supportive parental figure in a loving family.

Erin Rosa was born in Spain and raised in Colorado Springs. She is a freelance writer currently living in Denver. Rosa's work has been featured in a variety of news outlets including the Huffington Post, Democracy Now!, and the Rocky Mountain Chronicle, an alternative-weekly in Northern Colorado where she worked as a columnist covering the state legislature. Rosa has received awards from the Society of Professional Journalists for her reporting on lobbying and woman's health issues. She was also tapped with a rare honorable mention award by the Newspaper Guild-CWA's David S. Barr Award in 2008--only the second such honor conferred in its nine-year history--for her investigative series covering the federal government's Supermax prison in the state. Rosa covers the labor community, corrections, immigration and government transparency matters. She can be reached at