Liberals want to weaken Colorado’s 
already weak sex-offenders statute

The exceedingly modest law that establishes prison and parole requirements for convicted sex offenders in Colorado is expected to be targeted for a significant makeover next year.

But if you were hoping for a strengthening of the laws that protect our kids from predators, guess again. The goal of the liberals and defense lawyers targeting the child sex-offense statute is to make it easier, not harder, for those convicted of sexual assault against children to cycle out of incarceration.

Whether the attack on Colorado’s sex offender laws is broadside or incremental will probably depend on what advocates think they can get away with in an election year.

If you’ve followed the general arc of law-and-order issues in Denver recently, this will feel like “same song, different verse.”

Thanks to the purposeful work of Democratic legislative leaders eager to spend state dollars on just about anything other than locking up criminals, and aided by a defense bar and “human rights” groups who view minimum mandatory sentences as an affront to civil living, Colorado’s once successful system of criminal justice has been under steady siege.

The state’s corrections and parole bureaucracy has deteriorated to new levels of decay.

It started with former Gov. Bill Ritter, whose administration oversaw significant increases in the number of discretionary parole releases from the state’s prisons. That approach has mostly continued since. “Dollars first, public safety later” seems to be the creed.

Since then, the Legislature weakened a vital tool used by prosecutors to attack gang violence, a maximum security prison was closed, Gov. John Hickenlooper granted de facto clemency to mass murderer Nathan Dunlap, and the state’s system of housing, monitoring and tracking violent actors, both during the prison phase and during parole, has practically fallen apart.

Investigations by state officials and the press in the aftermath of the killing of the state’s corrections chief by a wrongly released convict uncovered dozens of other offenders who had been released from prison early. Scores of violent offenders who should have been designated to intensive parole supervision, meanwhile, were subject to anything but.

The Denver Post found “Colorado parolees have committed new crimes, used drugs and disappeared for months without getting bounced back to prison.

“In the past year alone, five ex-prisoners under parole officer supervision killed 10 Colorado citizens. Among the victims: five men and women who were slaughtered ... at Fero’s Bar & Grill in a late-night heist, a family law attorney who was sexually assaulted, an elderly man who was strangled in Gunnison and the chief of corrections who was shot on his doorstep.”

Add it up and it’s clear: Colorado’s commitment to sensible and effective law enforcement is in retreat. And those pushing it aren’t done yet.

According to law enforcement officials, the law that sets out prison and parole terms for sex offenders is the next expected target of Denver’s “soft on crime” council. They want to make it weaker, not stronger.

As I have written before, Colorado is one of just a handful of states that does not have Jessica’s Law on the books. Jessica’s Law mandates minimum mandatory prison sentences of 20-plus years for child sex offenders on the first conviction.

Colorado has no such stringent prison requirement. Instead, we rely on a lifetime supervision law that makes child sex offenders generally eligible for parole once they get treatment and are deemed safe. Then, sex offenders are supposed to be subject to intensive parole oversight for life.

The law, however, is riddled with holes. Many of the violent offenders recently discovered evading parole were being tracked under the lifetime supervision law. These gaps are the reason many policymakers insist that Jessica’s Law, with its tough minimum prison sentences, is the only fix.

But don’t tell that to the liberal do-gooders who want to weaken the already-weak law. A number of stories seeking to portray the law as inhumane have been bandied about the Denver media.

For their part, victims’ rights groups have publically warned that it would be irresponsible to gut the lifetime supervision law.

All signs point to a big political fight over the strength of the state’s sex-offender statutes next year. Just when you thought those pulling the strings in Denver couldn’t ask for anything more outrageous, you learn: they can and they are.

Josh Penry is a former minority leader of the Colorado Senate. He is a graduate of Grand Junction High School and Mesa State College.


COMMENTS

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Speaking strictly as a progressive, I would like to see laws that actually protect victims of domestic abuse, whether it be sexual or violent. Because the state has to prioritize every dollar it receives, it frequently has to make tough decisions. Finding ways to fund additional prison and probation costs, when there already is not enough funding for things like universities puts legislators between a rock and a hard place. It costs a lot of money to house criminals—we should only be feeding and housing those most dangerous to society for terms lasting 20 years or more—the rest should be working and contributing to our tax base so that there is not so much budget stress on the state. It is not helpful to the debate over priorities to use fear to malign those working to find the right balance. This is not a liberal/conservative debate; this is a debate about what the state can afford within the funding constraints imposed both by TABOR and a lingering sluggish economy.

Thank you Josh, for this article.  We need Jessica’s Law in Colorado to keep these child molesters away from children for life.  They cannot be cured.  It is not a sickness but an evil inside them.  If anyone doesn’t think there is a problem in Colorado, Google sex offenders in just your area and look at the amount of dots!!  They are coming to Colorado because of our soft laws.  These people ARE a danger to society! If anyone doesn’t think so, than I would say they have a problem themselves.  People need to write their representatives and demand Jessica’s Law.

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