5 Criminal Justice Reform Proposals To Watch This Legislative Session

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Photo: Denver County Jail Smith Road
The Denver County Jail on Smith Road, January 2019.

Criminal justice reform advocates call this legislative session “a good time to be us.”

There’s not only a Democratic majority in the legislature, but also a new governor who signaled in his State of the State that the was supportive of reform.

“Criminal justice reform is an economic necessity and a human rights necessity,” Polis said, in his address to lawmakers. “We will help you lead on this issue.”

Here are five criminal justice reform proposals that will appear before lawmakers this legislative session.

1. Cash Bail Reform

The American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado and other advocates are championing a proposal this session to eliminate cash bail with certain low-level criminal charges.

This comes at a time with the Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice — a sprawling bipartisan group of sheriff’s deputies, district attorneys, public defenders, advocates — has come to tentative agreement on language to send a cash bail reform bill to the legislature in 2019.

That proposal will be aimed to go before voters in 2020. Advocates from the ACLU and the criminal defense bar say they appreciate the longer effort by the commission, but they would like to see action sooner on a pressing issue.

State Public Safety Director Stan Hilkey, as well as the Colorado District Attorneys Council, is expected to oppose the short-term bill proposed for this session.

2. Drug Sentencing Reform

The Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition and the public defenders will be pushing an effort to drop any possession of any drug down to a misdemeanor.

Currently, some possession amounts yield a low-level felony charge. District attorneys are expected to oppose this, they say dropping everything down to a misdemeanor, which carries no possibility of prison time, doesn’t give offenders any incentive to make different life choices.

Advocates from the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition say that punishing people grappling with addiction with prison or jail time is not the answer to making Colorado more safe.

3. Death Penalty Repeal

Expected to be introduced mid-session, this proposal will repeal the death penalty in Colorado, which hasn’t been used in more than 40 years.

There are currently three people on death row.

Advocates include the ACLU, the public defenders and some of the Democratic district attorneys. Opponents include other district attorneys, including Arapahoe County’s George Brauchler and a few Democratic lawmakers, including Rhonda Fields and Tom Sullivan — both parents of victims of gun violence.

4. Parole Reform

Of the roughly 20,000 people imprisoned in Colorado, 8,000 of them are past their parole eligibility dates.

Former Gov. Hickenlooper had proposed opening a second state penitentiary, at a cost of $40 million, to deal with projections of increasing prison rates — something criminal justice reform advocates are pushing against.

Expect legislative proposals on parole reform, including concrete proposals to get the state’s Department of Corrections to increase efficiencies in managing its prison population.

5. Text-Messaging People To Remind Them Of Court Dates

This proposal didn’t pass last year, despite receiving bipartisan support.

More than half of Colorado’s jail population is pre-trial, meaning a person is facing criminal charges but hasn’t been convicted of anything yet. Some jails report 25 percent of people in jail are there because they’ve “failed to appear” in court.

The number one reason people skip court dates is because they forget about them. This bill enables administrators to send text reminders, similar to a dentist or a hairdresser, that a date is coming up