HD41 Democrat Curtis O’Neal shares this view on criminal justice reform in Colorado. Curtis is currently a member of the HD41 Outreach Committee, and is actively involved with the Arapahoe Democrats.  

2018 will be a critical election year for major issues which include criminal justice reform. Currently, the United States has a staggering prison population of 2.5 million American citizens.  The state of Colorado makes up for 21,354 state citizens in the U.S. Prison population.  Of this population 95% will be returning to their previous communities.  For many the ability to move ahead and out of the stigma of incarceration will be tremendous.  Barriers to employment, housing, medical and mental health treatment prevent the formerly incarcerated from achieving successful reentry. Moreover, is the crippling effect on state budgets as many Department of Corrections resources make up a substantial part of state finances.  To combat the obstacles to successful reentry Colorado, law makers passed HB 14-1355 providing additional resources to address education, housing medical and mental health treatment for ex- offenders.  The bill is now part of Colorado Department of Corrections (CDOC) Reentry Initiatives which has created several needed reentry programs and is addressing barriers to successful reentry.

However, funding to support these initiatives will be an issue due to Colorado’s TABOR (Taxpayer Bill of Rights) model which prevents local and state governments from raising taxes without voter approval.  Furthermore, governments cannot spend revenue collected under existing tax rates without voter approval.  On a national level majority of the voting public’s opinion of public safety is to build more prisons and employ more police officers.   Majority of Coloradoans are concerned about public safety and realize Colorado cannot continue with “Tough on Crime” approaches- there just too costly.  Colorado must explore “Smart on Crime” agendas.  That creates inclusive approaches w/ key stakeholders (Non-Government Organizations and Community based organizations). State agencies, NGOs, and CBOs work together to identify barriers, gaps, and obstacles then work together to find solutions to such barriers, gaps, and obstacles using Six Sigma processes to eliminate such barriers, gaps, and obstacles in addition to eliminating unnecessary waste.  This approach creates a centralized method to offender reentry and creates cost saving solutions while increasing greater returns on investments (ROI).  In addition, this method creates collaboration between institutional case managers and NGO/ CBOs case managers which provide for a warm handoff for greater reentry success.

Because correctional systems do not have any policy control over community based agencies it is imperative that CBOs and NGOs assist in addressing the barriers and obstacles that prevent successful reentry.  Tax models such as TABOR need to rethought because they do not allow for “Smart on Crime” agendas.   Lastly, the practice of providing offenders with ten dollars; a bus ticket; and wish of good luck has proven to be quite egregious.  This practice has demonstrated a lack of common sense.  The reentry process must begin at the start of incarceration and ends when the offender is no longer under correctional supervision (off paper).

The issues of recidivism affect us all and its problems can be solved through collaborative efforts of the community.  States such as Michigan and Arizona have used similar models to augment its reentry efforts and have seen a dramatic reduction in its prison populations thus saving the states millions of dollars.