Commission recommendations on sentencing are bad news for justice
Recently, an alarming report was issued by the Governor’s Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice. The recommendations in the report represent the beginnings of an all-out assault upon the criminal justice system and public safety.
The state of Colorado currently finds itself in the throes of tough economic times. In such times, it is tempting, but dangerous, to cut spending on public safety. Yet this is precisely what the commission is recommending to the Legislature.
Issues of public safety should not be decided in the distracting environment of budgetary shortfalls. When such an environment prevails, bad decisions are made. When bad decisions are made, people die, women and children are horribly abused and drunken drivers escalate the dangers on our roads. If the Legislature transforms these recommendations into laws, those laws will usher in incalculable human costs.
A Washington state study was cherry picked for use by the commission as the model to emulate. This study advocates retreat from incarceration of criminals, instead relying more upon treatment and intervention as the means to reduce crime and recidivism. It is no surprise then that the commission’s findings and recommendations follow suit. In short, the governor’s commission recommends we attempt to reduce crime and recidivism by creating government bureaucracies to oversee and administer treatment programs intended to fix the bad guys. This has been tried before. Its result has always been the same: dismal failure.
The process used by commission has been, from its inception, fundamentally dishonest and deceitful. It is dishonest in that, although it speaks of safeguarding public safety, its main goal is cutting costs. It is also dishonest in that it lays the groundwork for future claims of reducing crime and recidivism when in reality it:
✓ Merely redefines certain behaviors out of the realm of criminal conduct;
✓ Redefines other felony behaviors as misdemeanors;
✓ Redefines still other behaviors as no longer being parole/probation violations.
Future claims of reductions in crime and recidivism based upon these exclusions will bear no relation to reality or public safety. Finally, the process is deceitful in that it severely compromises public safety in the very name of public safety. Indeed, this is the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing.
To be fair, some members of the commission fought valiantly to mitigate the damage that the commission as a whole is doing. Theirs was a losing battle from the beginning. The game was rigged with foregone conclusions. The commission’s task was to justify the predetermined goal of reducing sentences for criminal offenders in order to reduce the cost of incarcerating those who have earned the right to be in prison.
If the governor is truly interested in protecting the public, he should do three things. First, he must undertake this review of the criminal justice system in an environment free of budgetary pressures. Only then can a dispassionate review and evaluation be accomplished. Second, he should create a commission with members whose sole agenda is public safety rather than the advancement of a courtroom strategy or a political ideology. Third, he needs to ensure that there are no predetermined paths to follow or goals to achieve, other than the safety of citizens.
The path the existing commission has embarked upon is dangerous. It is a path of Russian roulette. If its initial report is any indication of the direction its planned long-term study will go, we can expect more bullets in the chamber. Sooner or later a round will be in the chamber when the trigger is pulled.
Below is a link to the Web site wherein the report can be accessed. Read it and make your own determination as to the efficacy of the recommendations. Then let your legislators know that our safety must be their paramount concern. The ramifications of these recommendations are significant. If they are made law, they will bring enormous human cost.
The Web site is cdpsweb.state.co.us/cccjj/PDF/2009_Nov_Report/SB09-286-Report_11-30-09.pdf