A Better Criminal Justice System

(April 28) – Rep. Pete Lee’s campaign to make Colorado’s criminal justice system into a model for the rest of the nation advanced on four fronts today.

Receiving voice-vote approval was HB17-1329, which Rep. Lee, D-Colorado Springs, is sponsoring with Rep. Lois Landgraf, R-Fountain. On the heels of a highly critical report detailing excessive abuse at the Division of Youth Corrections, the bill aims at a sweeping transformation, beginning with renaming the agency the Division of Youth Services. The bill launches a pilot program to implement best practices, phases out the use of physical restraints and solitary confinement, and focuses on the behavioral change of youthful offenders, not just their recidivism rates.

The goal, Rep. Lee told the House, is “division-wide transformation from a punitive and violent culture to a therapeutic and rehabilitative one.”

Also passing on second reading was HB17-1204, Rep. Lee’s bill providing for automatic expungement of juvenile records in low-level criminal cases and streamlining the process for expungement of more serious juvenile offenses.

“Right now, if a juvenile wants to expunge their record they have to file a motion and jump through a bunch of hoops,” Rep. Lee told the House. Many youths don’t go to the trouble to get their records expunged, and thus carry their convictions with them through life despite the long-term negative impact on their employment prospects.

This afternoon’s action came after the House gave final passage to HB17-1326, Rep. Lee’s paradigm-shifting bill to refocus the state’s criminal justice spending on the education and economic development that deter and prevent crimes.

The bill would launch a pilot program in northern Aurora and southeastern Colorado Springs to cut the length of the jail time served by offenders found guilty of technical parole violations and reinvest the money saved in education and jobs programs in those two communities, which are significantly impacted by crime.

“For decades we have been fighting crime with huge public safety expenditures to put cops on the streets and then, on the back end, to incarcerate people, put them on parole and probation and put them through rehab programs,” Rep. Lee said. “The underlying premise of this bill is to take money from savings in the criminal justice system and invest it in resolving the issues that lead to crime in the first place.”

Also today, Rep. Lee received Legislative Council approval of his proposal for an interim committee to study what he called the “Byzantine complexities” of criminal sentencing in Colorado.

“We have mandatory minimum sentencing, crime-of-violence sentencing and add-ons for various aggravating factors,” Rep Lee said. “I hope the interim committee will reach agreement on recommendations to reform and streamline this process.”

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