Jun 13, 2016    |    News

Colorado must be heard on criminal justice reform

Originally appeared in: The Denver Post
By: Michael B. Hancock

With outdated drug laws and policies of incarceration proving to be a failure, the time is ripe for change in our criminal justice system. Colorado has recognized the necessity for change and has taken some steps to address it, but we must do more to alleviate prison overcrowding and mass incarceration. We must extend our reform efforts to criminal justice policies that have had disastrous effects on our communities of color.

It’s troubling enough that between 1980 and 2008, the number of people incarcerated in America quadrupled from 500,000 to 2.3 million. What’s worse, however, is that 58 percent of prisoners in 2008 were Latino or African-American.

In Denver, we’ve started a top-to-bottom reform initiative in the Sheriff’s Department and have established needed changes within the Police Department. And when looking for new ways to reduce homelessness and find solutions to chronic mental health and substance-abuse challenges in our community, we’ve looked to innovative ways to place these individuals in services, not jail cells.

My administration is committed to eliminating these inequalities in our criminal justice system and will continue working to create opportunities for all. Fortunately, there is a chance to support these priorities on a federal level. The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 (S.2123), currently in the U.S. Senate, would reform the federal mandatory minimum sentencing laws that have resulted in overcrowded prisons and wasted taxpayer money. This bill would support treatment programs for inmates, reducing recidivism upon release. With four federal prisons located in Colorado, the bill would allow federal resources to be directed most effectively in order to keep our communities safe.

The Denver Police Department, under Chief Robert White, has become a model for criminal justice reform across America. It has been a driving part of an International effort to address the concerns of those most impacted by the justice system. While recognizing that there is a great deal of work to accomplish, it should be encouraging to the citizens of Denver that we are considered a leader in the transformative changes taking place. From the training of officers in regards to dealing with citizens in crisis to proactive de-escalation of force and community focus, Denver stands ready to move forward on these important issues. Sentencing reform is a piece of that overall effort.

I continue to work with Colorado Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner by providing them the opportunity to see firsthand many of the reforms we have implemented in Denver and how these efforts positively change the lives of those touched by our criminal justice system.

Supporting the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 is an opportunity for Congress to enact the change on a federal level, a change that their constituents already support on a state level and local level, and it is vital forGardner to join the bipartisan group of U.S. senators in supporting this bill.

In my years of service in Colorado, from Denver Housing Authority to Denver City Council and now the mayor’s office, I’ve remained committed to improving the lives of all residents of the Mile High City. The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 would improve the lives of millions of Americans, and I urge Congress to pass this important piece of legislation.

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