Local news roundup with the Colorado Sun - 9/20/22
We caught up with our colleagues at the Colorado Sun this week to find out what stories are crossing their reporting desks. Sun editor Larry Rickman joined KUNC's Beau Baker to talk through some of the news they're following.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
Beau Baker: Let's start with a story on a state prison work program. The Take Two program gave low-risk inmates a chance to work outside prisons, but it was effectively shut down this summer after an inmate in the program escaped. Now, businesses that were participating in the program are in a tight spot. Larry, what can you tell us about this?
Larry Ryckman: Yeah, this is a real gut punch to businesses that have already been struggling to find workers. Reporter Shannon Najmabadi says some employers had built their business plans around the labor force that this program made available over the past three years. A program that allowed low-risk inmates to work outside prison shortly before their release. But employers say they were given no time to warn customers of revised schedules before Take Two was curtailed. That cost some businesses thousands of dollars in canceled orders and reduced hours. Now, some are partially blaming politics, saying there are increased concerns about public safety during an election year. Take two aims to reduce the number of repeat offenders, save the state money on incarceration, and prepare inmates for reentry into society. Up to 20% of each inmate's salary went to paying for restitution, child support and other court fees. Since the program began, it has generated more than $270,000 in restitution and court fees. Prison officials say the program is on a pause while they reevaluate and address some of their own staffing issues. We'll definitely keep an eye on this one.
Beau: Moving on. Christian Glass was shot and killed by police in Clear Creek County in June. Recent body cam footage and details of the incident have raised questions about why there aren't more mental health responders involved in police calls. What did the Sun's reporters find while looking into these types of resources around the state?
Larry: Sun reporters Olivia Principal and Jennifer Brown found that more than half of Colorado counties lack a co-responder program in which a mental health professional joins law enforcement on police calls. That includes Clear Creek County, where officers shot the 22-year-old man as he sat in his car. Co-responder programs try to de-escalate encounters with police and reduce the number of people who need mental health treatment but instead often are sent to jail. Teams funded by the Behavioral Health Administration responded to nearly 26,000 calls from July 2020 to June 2021, and 98% of the time, there was no arrest. Colorado's boosted efforts in recent years and provided funding to expand programs across the state. The program's $7 million budget is funded through taxes on marijuana sales, as well as federal mental health aid. Yet today, only 24 of Colorado's 64 counties have a co-responder program. Some of these rural counties say they don't have enough mental health issues to justify the expense of co-responding programs.
Beau: And finally, today, Larry, air quality Colorado just got dinged by the Environmental Protection Agency for violations on the front range. And Sun reporter Michael Booth looked deeper into the state goals on cutting greenhouse gas emissions. What did Michael find?
Larry: So state officials just released a new report that shows Colorado has fallen alarmingly behind goals to cut greenhouse gas emissions for 2025 and 2030. That's prompting clean air advocates to renew calls for more aggressive action on consumer and business driving habits and a shift to more transit spending. The projected gap is the widest in transportation. State estimates put 2025 carbon dioxide emissions essentially unchanged from current levels if stronger new policies are not added. State air pollution control officials say Colorado needs to cut 10 million tons of annual carbon emissions from transportation to meet goals of 26% cuts from 2005 levels by 2025. Colorado has been praised for scheduling aggressive closures of coal-fired power plants, but critics now say those closures might need to be sped up even further to help meet greenhouse gas goals. Colorado's transportation sector is now nearly equal to power generation and its contribution to the state's greenhouse gas emissions.
Beau: I was going to say, reading Michael's reporting, we're behind on the first goal of 2025. It seems like the 2030 goal to cut emissions by half, that's a bit of a long shot right now.
Larry: Yeah. It feels pretty aggressive right now. And again, every day that goes by that we aren't catching up makes it even harder to do so down the road.