Senators Carroll, Morse, Rep. Levy Push Prison Reform

While the state budget hangs in limbo, and the special session looms, Colorado lawmakers are desperately seeking solutions to this crisis. With the defeat yesterday of the bills that would have forced Pinnacol to transfer $500 million to the state to fund higher education and balance the budget, Sen. Morgan Carroll (D-29) offers a sensible solution via her blog:

We are currently spending twice as much on corrections as higher education and it is now the 3 largest item in our budget and growing.  Most other states have taken similar moves as an effort to be evidence-based, smarter on crime and smarter with spending taxpayer money.  Colorado can’t afford NOT to consider sentencing reform.

Here are some facts to consider:

  • It costs $30,386 per inmate per year in operating costs and $150,773 per year per inmate for capital construction.
  • 74% of our prison population is in for non-violent offenses.
  • The Department of Corrections has become the single largest “mental health care provider” in the State of Colorado
  • Probation costs $3.42 per day to supervise whereas prison costs $78.95 per day to supervise
  • 1 in 29 Colorado residents are now under correctional control.  (That figure was 1 in 102 in 1982) [rsb emphasis]
  • At the current rate of incarceration we would need to build a new prison every year.
  • For the cost of incarcerating 1 inmate we could:

    o Educate 5 children in K12;

    o Fund tuition for 10 students in higher education;

    o Pay the health insurance premiums for 3 families a year;

    o Fund 6 Medicaid enrollees for health care.

These facts speak for themselves: Colorado’s prison system is broken, and fixing it could be the solution to the current budget crisis we’re facing. More after the fold.

Though the facts dictate that we must do something to address this massive problem, many at the Capitol are wary of approaching this issue for fear of being seen as “soft on crime”. Dick Wadhams is undoubtedly drooling at the mouth to characterize Democratic incumbents as just that. The problems, however, outweigh the political repercussions. As Carroll notes:

What’s more is that we have research that demonstrates that we are no longer getting any public safety returns at the level we are spending.  If fact, there is a significant body of research demonstrating that the funds can be better spent in ways that not only improve public safety and reduce recidivism but also save us money.

We can no longer afford to waste money on things that don’t work and we need to prioritize our money on incarcerating people who are a true threat to society.

While this may not be a magic wand that can fix every single gap in the budget, it does a lot more than 3% cuts across the board. If Josh Penry and the Senate Republicans truly care about fixing this crisis, then they won’t use it as a political football. Those of us familiar with their track record, however, know they probably will. If that does happen, then the Democrats need to resist the temptation for political expediency.

All they have to do is look at the facts, and present them in the same way Morgan Carroll has. It’s time for leadership on the budget crisis–even in the face of certain right wing fear-mongering.


52 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. MesaModerate says:

    Let’s let the prison gates fly open the way Carroll and Ritter want to see happen and perhaps we can give all of those people green colar jobs.  Maybe we could even turn our prisons in to massive solar electricity plants.  

    Wait!  How about we reopen every case and just plead the offenses down to ag trespass? No one will care — it can even get you elected governor!

    • redstateblues says:

      for proving my point.

      • MesaModerate says:

        I’ll take the word of my local DA and Sheriff on this issue.  You know what, RSB…there actually ARE bad people out there that deserve mandatory sentences and incarceration.  

        • redstateblues says:

          Now you prove you don’t know how to read in addition to contradicting yourself left and right.

          We can no longer afford to waste money on things that don’t work and we need to prioritize our money on incarcerating people who are a true threat to society.

          Do you want to balance the budget or not? I’m getting pretty god damn sick of your partisan hyperbole. This site is for people who want to have a real conversation about the issues. It’s painfully obvious you don’t want that.

          • MesaModerate says:

            for “reminding” us of what this site is about.  This site is a bunch of partisan hacks that get together daily to prop up the left and attack the right.  Just because you can’t stand someone pointing out inconsistencies and giving a little of your own vile medicine…don’t take the lord’s name in vain.

        • gertie97 says:

          is continue to press the commissioners for more money to continue their expansion of their empire. They keep pumping people into state prisons and damn the costs.

        • parsingreality says:

          Their job justification and reelections certainly don’t rest on being able to claim how many people they put behind bars, no sirree!

          When every problem looks like a prison term, that becomes the only tool in the box.

          First, clean out the possessors of small amounts of marijuana and bits of crack.

          Then, people who are close to filling out their sentences,

          Then, petty dealers, some who probably were only holding their own stash.

          Hire more (unemployed) social workers to monitor probates.  

          These steps would free up a lot of money.

          Oh, wait……. you mean there are private prisons and employees who want more people in prison?  

          I’m shocked, I tell you, shocked.

    • Arvadonian says:

      Can you tell me one position you have that would be accurately described as “moderate” or “liberal” given that the moniker you have chosen for yourself would seem to indicate that you don’t toe the party line for either party and I have yet to see any of your positions that break from the standard, hackneyed conservative talking points.

      Do you have any depth or nuance to your positions or could we simply go the RNC website if we wondered what you thought on a particular issue?

  2. DavidThi808DavidThi808 says:

    Finally someone proposing some systemic change which drastically reduces expenses in part of the budget – and for sensible reasons. Here’s hoping this is seriously evaluated.

  3. Barron X says:


    why not start up a US version of the French Foreign Legion ?  


  4. Car 31 says:

    Let’s all start off on the right foot here.

    SB286 isn’t just M. Carroll’s – Morse, Levy and Merrifield are also carrying the bill.

    Brief History – in 1985 an amendment to HB-1320 doubled sentences in CO (yes, an amendment). There was little debate on the amendment since the thought was, at the time, stricter sentencing will reduce crime. We now know that ain’t true.

    Almost every year since we have willy-nilly added new crimes and increased sentences until now our prison and jail population is 400% higher than in ’85.

    There’s no money to support the less expensive programs (community corrections, mental health beds…) that produce results and reduce recidivism, because we need to spend money incarcerating people.

    Now, we may all disagree on who needs to be locked up, so – thankfully, we have a judicial branch that makes those decisions for us.

    This bill allows those professionals, the DAs, the Judges, and the PDs the flexibility to maneuver away from mandatory minimum and outdated sentencing and start sending those offenders with substance abuse and mental illnesses to the proper institutions instead of locking them behind bars.

    What could sidetrack this bill aren’t the weak arguments from the DAs that this bill will increase crime, nor the ranting from law and order types.  

    What will sidetrack this bill is the Gov’s own Criminal Justice Commission, whose original task and purpose and reason for being, was to figure out sentencing reform in CO.  

    Morse, et al, got tired of waiting for the Commission to act so they introduced this bill.  Now the Commission is all in a tizzy because they feel this should have come through them.  The question is, will Ritter stand up to his appointed commission and tell them to support the bill, or will he cave and allow the bill to die so his commission can claim the glory?

    I guess we’ll see in the next two weeks…

  5. Karate Kid says:

    and the consensus is that the folks in prison are there for a reason.  They are bad guys.  It’s not like you could put a bunch of them on the street without serious consequences.

    • Car 31 says:

      There are many bad guys in prisons and jails who should be there.  There are also plenty of people who shouldn’t be there or could benefit from community corrections, work release, halfway homes, or mental health treatment.

      There is a ‘frequent flier’ who lands in Arapahoe county jail at least once or twice a year. He was arrested for taking an unlocked bike that was parked outside a store. He was arrested for pissing on a 7-11.  He was arrested for public disturbances.  He has schizophrenia.  

      Ya think being in jail helps him?

      No one is talking about opening up the doors to the prisons and letting the psycho murderers and child molesters onto the streets.  If you’re concerned about this, read the bill and you’ll see what the sponsors had in mind…

    • tallport says:

      I do not doubt that, but there are also a lot of us who have been calling for reform for many years.  (I am a 24-year veteran) The United States has 5% of the world’s population and about 25% of the world’s prisoners.  That is a statement about our culture and beliefs.  It cannot be simplified with the argument of personal responsibility and bad people. Not to say that fact should be ignored, but society must accept responsibility for failed public policy. I commend the legislators for looking hard at this issue.  

  6. Disinterested17 says:

    But please let these ex cons live in your neighborhood near your kids, and not mine.

  7. WashParkPoet says:

    In fact crime has fallen rather dramatically since the 1980’s when we incarcarated few bad guys.  and it is misleading to refer to the percentage of “nonvilent” offenders in our system, without recognizing that 1)  Many of the “nonviolent” offenders pled down from a violent charge, and 2) many of the “nonviolent” offenders had previous violent offenses, for which the sentencing judge is now making them due time for the “nonviolent” charge.  Also, it is common for offenders to be on parole or probation and re-offend, getting sent to the slammer for–again–what is listed as a “nonviolent” crime….

    • DavidThi808DavidThi808 says:

      There are people in prison where we should just kick them lose. Anyone who is in for being a drug user for starters.

      There are those in who have mental health or addicition issues and would be much better served in a treatment facility – and that’s cheaper.

      I also think we should punish appropiately for crimes. Accross the board lock them up and throw away the key isn’t cost effective.

      We also face the issue that until we provide safe neighborhoods and effective schools, crime is going to be very appealing to many of the poor.

      • redstateblues says:

        maximum sentencing creates a massive fiscal burden on the state, and takes the power out of the hands of the judiciary.

        Sentencing should be proportionate to the crime being committed.

        Education is the greatest crime-fighting tool we have; by cutting it instead of prison budgets, we’re taking money away from the cure and using it to treat the symptoms.

    • ajb says:

      Steven Levitt has some interesting ideas on why crime has dropped since the 80s. It’s worth a read, and not what you’d expect.

        • ajb says:

          He ascribes the drop in crime to the legalization and access to safe, legal abortions. While he acknowledges that is a controversial conclusion, he does a careful and thorough analysis.

          If you haven’t read the book, you really ought to. It’s extremely well written, so it reads quite easily (not what you’d expect from an economics book). Who knew that econ could be fun?

          • parsingreality says:

            And it appears abortions go down when the economy is good.  Bill Clinton saved a lot of babies, despite his label otherwise.

            When Mom’s off working, no one is there to answer the booty call.  Literally.  

            • cdsmith says:

              when the economy is doing well.  It’s silly to suggest that’s because unemployed women get bored and have sex.

              This phenomenon occurs because even though we don’t collect the evidence to know for sure, the near-consensus informed opinion is that most abortions are all but mandated by economic realities.  Single women find themselves pregnant, and can already barely pay the rent or bills; realize they can’t possible provide for children; that having a child now will literally condemn them to more abject poverty for nearly twenty years.

              The DFLA (a group of Democrats that got together to oppose abortion) has done a lot of work raising awareness about this.  They’ve provided pretty strong evidence that the most effective way to prevent abortion would be to strengthen WIC, make sure pre-natal and pregnancy-related health care is affordable for women in poverty (via SCHIP and other programs), and provide counseling and accurate information.  Ironic, since the supposedly “pro-life” Republican party opposes all of those things.

              Basically, if you want to feel morally superior for being on the “right” side of the abortion issue, support Republicans.  If you want to stop abortion, support Deomcrats but then advocate for the cause.

              Okay yeah, touchy point… sorry.

              • parsingreality says:

                The BCF (Booty Call Factor) is probably there; I’m not sure if anyone has researched this.

                I’m basing my conjecture on my own life.  During a spell long ago when, I, uh, was in a life of, hmmm, OK, doing illegal things to support myself, I had a lot of daytime sex.  Obviously my partners were available then, too, for whatever reasons.  

                But rejoining the honestly working that pretty much went away.  Surely this experience is not unique.  If one is boiling grease at the KFC, one is not making babies.  

  8. allyncooper says:

    We’ve known for years that the corrections budget was out of control, but the political will was never there to do anything about it.

    This whole session has been nothing but legislation by crisis. First the highway funding issue….should have been addressed long ago. Then the aborted Pinnacol caper. Now with only three weeks left we’ve got to overhaul the entire corrections system to try to save the budget.

    I fully support Senator Carroll’s and others in prison reform. This country incarcerates far more people per capita of population than any other country by far. Should have been done years ago.  

  9. smellykat says:

    Morse and Levy get credit for prison reform too.  Both are on the sentencing commission and Morse is listed as the first senate sponsor of the bill.  Also Morse is sponsoring a bill on capping the amount of folks the locals can send to prison, and letting them figure out ways to live within their cap, as we do now for juveniles.  A great idea.  But if you ask the DAs, both of these bills will end all public safety and crime will be unleashed on us all as a result.  

  10. smellykat says:

    Given that this is a Morse/Carroll, Levy bill, why no mention of the others… Are you shilling for MC?

    • redstateblues says:

      All apologies to Sen. Morse and Rep. Levy, I certainly didn’t want to exclude them from getting well-deserved credit on these bills.

      I read about this on Square State today, via MC’s blog, and wasn’t aware of their sponsorship. I read Car 31’s comment earlier today and was meaning to change it. Reading your comment reminded me.

      So, no, I’m not a shill for Sen. Carroll.

      What are they feeding you anyway?

  11. I like Senator Carroll and Rep Levy a lot because they both have CONVICTIONS and such sponsorship displays those good convictions


    Prison spending has been a criticism of mine for a long time now and there are a lot of facts that many are completely unaware of….

    I took on Rep Scanlan during the HD56 debates about the issue of prison spending, as I heavily and openly favored reducing our state prison spending, considering that it has almost tripled over the last 10 years, whereas crime rates have not — Rep Scanlan, for the most part, didn’t seem to offer any proactive solutions towards reducing prison spending, which surprised me

    We gained a lot of traction from making that a campaign issue, as evidenced by this letter to the Summit Daily editor –

    In addition, I’ve also mentioned this as a MAJOR campaign issue, should I actually run for State Treasurer in 2010 –

    In addition, the Greeley Tribune (Oct 10 2007) also confirmed that around half of our prison inmates, in Colorado, are in there for committing non-violent crimes

    Grand point – take the guys who are smoking pot, send them home with GPS bracelets to wear during parole, and spend half the money that would go to their incarceration, instead, on rehab — from there, reduce all forms of spending in prisons


    (and here is the best part of my reply)

    Our State Legislators are being PURCHASED by political groups who are sympathetic with PRISON BUILDING/MANAGING

    Many of Colorado’s prisons are built and privately managed by the CORNELL COMPANIES out of Houston, Texas

    The CORNELL COMPANIES share the same address with the CORNELL EMPLOYEES PAC — this is a PAC that is giving very high contributions to Democrats in Colorado and some Republicans — you can look it up at SOS

    And sadly, we have no idea how many 527’s are potentially being opened over this relationship (thanks Senators McCain and Feingold for some lousy legislation) – however, you will notice that PACs associated with Cornell Companies did give 527 money to Accountability For Colorado, a 527 that heavily sympathizes with Democrats

    With that said, if Senator Carrol and Representative Levy really want to make a difference on this issue, then they need to BAN any kind of political participation from prison builders in Colorado politics, because as far as I’m concerned, companies that manage prisons want to see more prisoners

    Since Colorado’s prisons went under private management, we have seen a HUGE increase in prison spending – coincidence?

    Lastly, a new prison is hundreds to thousands of new labor union jobs — if prison spending is ever fought, it will be led by Republicans, not Democrats

    Sadly, I believe even Senator Penry has taken contributions from the Cornell Employees PAC, among other Republicans

    There is a lot to this problem that many are very ignorant of

    Lastly – here are some records of PACs associated with Cornell Companies from the SOS office, but honestly, this could possibly be just the tip of the iceburg, as so much 527 activity can be undocumented –

    peace and love all! ALI

  12. smellykat says:

    Almost all of Colorado’s prisons are owned and operated by Corrections Corporation of America.  Not Cornell.  

  13. smellykat says:

    That is, the private prisons are owned by CCA.  There are many public ones.  

  14. smellykat says:

    Thanks for the welcome – and I think they fed me some politicians for breakfast.  That’s why I am so smelly.

Leave a Reply

Comment from your Facebook account

You may comment with your Colorado Pols account above (click here to register), or via Facebook below.