Three Takeaways For Colorado From New 'Smart Justice' Report

Sep 18, 2018

Colorado’s prison population is growing. Between 1980 and 2016, it increased by 661 percent. It’s projected to increase by another 38 percent by 2024 according to projections from the Colorado Division of Criminal Justice.

But a new report out by the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado details how the state could significantly reduce that number – and potentially save hundreds of millions of dollars – through an overhaul of the state’s prison system and policies.

KUNC spoke with the ACLU of Colorado’s director of public policy, Denise Maes, about the report and what changes it proposes for Colorado.

Interview Highlights

Colorado could save about $675 million by 2025 by pursuing changes in three main areas: drug policy, prosecutorial practices and parole.

Denise Maes, ACLU:  Who should be out of the prison system? That means we need to have a more efficient parole board, that is able to release people who are eligible for parole, but nonetheless remain behind prison bars. …  I think our District Attorneys should look at this report and do some introspection, and really think about are they bringing too many people into the criminal justice system.

The “tough on crime” philosophy is making the prison population incrementally larger without deterring crime.

Maes: I think one of the things our communities need to ask is are we any safer today with that tough on crime stance? Most of those felony filings are in simple drug possession, which should tell us that we have a public health crisis on our hands, not a criminal justice crisis.

Citizens need to become more aware of who their district attorney is.

Maes: We know that alternative courts, mental health courts, drug courts, etcetera, are a lot more effective than your traditional court system that just puts people into the prison pipeline. That’s not a long-term solution. What we know from this report is that the war on drugs is alive and well. Our community needs to be more aware of that -- and do they sign off on that, or are they just now aware of it?