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February 21, 2023

House Passes Bipartisan Bill to Encourage Incarcerated Coloradans to Pursue College Credits

DENVER, CO –  The House today passed bipartisan legislation sponsored by Representative Matthew Martinez to allow incarcerated Coloradans to earn time off their sentence by pursuing higher education. HB23-1037 passed the House with nearly unanimous support by a vote of 61-1. 

“This bill is about preparing incarcerated Coloradans for success when they’re released from prison by giving them the tools they need to thrive,” said Rep. Matthew Martinez D-Monte Vista. “I’m beyond proud to champion this bipartisan bill that received nearly unanimous support from Republicans and Democrats. This bill will reduce recidivism in Colorado by creating pathways for incarcerated people to earn credits toward degrees and certificates that create opportunities for good paying careers after they have served their time.”


HB23-1037, sponsored by Representatives Matt Martinez and Rose Pugliese, R-Colorado Springs, would allow inmates sentenced for a nonviolent felony offense to reduce their sentence by completing an accredited degree or other credential awarded by an accredited higher education institution while the inmate is incarcerated in the Department of Corrections (DOC). Specifically, inmates could receive one year of earned time for a bachelor's or associate's degree, 6 months for an earned credential or certificate of 30 credit hours worth, 18 months of earned time for a master’s degree, and two years for a doctoral degree. 

Right now, offenders in the DOC can reduce their sentence through earned time by participating in group living, counseling sessions and through specific work and training. Generally, inmates cannot reduce their sentence by more than 30 percent. This bill would add higher education to the list of ways inmates can reduce their sentence through earned time. HB23-1037 aims to encourage incarcerated Coloradans to pursue higher education and better prepare them for a high-earning career post-sentence. 

Access to education opportunities while in prison is one of the most efficient and cost-effective tools to reduce recidivism. Colorado’s recidivism rate is 50 percent, one of the highest in the nation.  A comprehensive, nationwide study showed that the recidivism rate among incarcerated individuals who earn associate's degrees is around 14 percent and just 5.6 percent for those who earn bachelor's degrees. These recidivism rates are significantly lower than interacted individuals who receive no education while in prison. 

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