Democratic opposition sinks plan to pay $3,000 grants to people leaving prison

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Morning light on the state Capitol dome, Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2023, as the General Assembly prepares to begin a new session.

The state of Colorado currently pays $100 in “gate money” to many people who are leaving prison. Justice reformers say for many, that’s not nearly enough to help them get back on their feet and avoid offending again.

But a short-lived effort to dramatically increase that amount has failed in the legislature over concerns about its overall price tag and oversight.

SB24-012 would have provided up to $3,000 in grants for people leaving incarceration, assuming that they stay enrolled in programs to help them get jobs and reenter society.

"As we discussed the policy with a wide group of stakeholders, I learned that there were other approaches that might be useful to include, and I want to continue learning over the course of the interim as we continue to combat recidivism across the state,” wrote Sen. Julie Gonzales, a Democratic sponsor of the measure, in a text message.

The proposal ran into criticism from a key Senate Democrat. Sen. Dylan Roberts said that he was concerned about estimates that the policy could cost the state up to $15 million a year, as well as questions about how the program would be administered.

Without Roberts’ support, the measure faced a tough road through the Senate Judiciary Committee. The panel is split between three Democrats and two Republicans, both of whom were also likely to vote against it. The measure also was opposed by the state Department of Corrections, which said the measure lacked specific objectives for the spending, and that it was written so only one nonprofit could fulfill the requirements to run the new program.

On Wednesday, the measure’s sponsors threw up the white flag. They asked the committee to kill the bill, and the committee did so unanimously. The proposal will not return this year, Gonzales said.

Sen. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, the third Democrat on the panel, said that she supported the bill, but ultimately went along with the sponsors’ request to postpone it indefinitely. 

Sen. Kevin Van Winkle, a Republican on the committee, said he was glad to see the bill stopped. “Had it passed, millions in taxpayer dollars would have been handed out to individuals without any sort of audit process to ensure taxpayer money was actually being spent on their intended purposes,” he wrote in a text message, adding that there are already “numerous programs that recently released individuals can take advantage of.”

In earlier testimony, supporters had said that the grants could have helped people get their lives on track. “People might think you're just giving them fish, but you're teaching 'em how to fish,” said Demetrius Sommerville, who received a similar grant from a privately funded program.