(Nov. 3) – A bipartisan panel reached agreement today on a package of bills to modernize criminal justice sentencing in Colorado by increasing judicial discretion and adopting data-driven policies.

After hearing from more than 60 witnesses spanning the political spectrum, the Sentencing in the Criminal Justice System Interim Study Committee voted today to move forward with five bills. If approved by Legislative Council and the full General Assembly in the 2018 legislative session, the bills would:

  • Update Colorado’s habitual offender law to allow more judicial discretion in sentencing and to specify which offenses are habitual-eligible. Under the bill, a habitual offender could still be sentenced to up to three times the normal range, but draconian outcomes could be avoided.
  • Give judges discretion to sentence sex offenders to an indeterminate prison sentence or to a fixed number of years, helping to assure that each offender serves a sentence tailored to public safety and avoiding situations where judges hand down overly lenient sentences because they feel they have no other choice.
  • Set the maximum time served on parole at three years instead of five years. Data shows that recidivism is close to zero in the fourth or fifth year of parole, but the average cost of parole supervision is more than $6,000 per parolee per year.

Also approved today were bills to continue the state Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice and to authorize the CCJJ to update a report issued 10 years ago on the effectiveness of criminal sentencing in Colorado.  

“The Colorado Department of Corrections budget has been increasing faster than many other areas of state spending for many years,” said Rep. Pete Lee, D-Colorado Springs, chairman of the interim committee. “The crime rate is trending downward, but our prisons are full and the DOC is asking for more money. Without losing sight of our obligation to preserve public safety, we need to be smarter about how we spend the taxpayers’ dollars on corrections, treatment, prevention and restorative justice.”

“High percentages of offenders have substance use issues or mental health issues or both, but incarceration without treatment does not address these conditions or reduce the risk of recidivism,” said Rep. Mike Weissman, D-Aurora, who also sat on the interim committee. “By modernizing Colorado’s criminal justice policies we can make more effective use of our public safety dollars.”

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