Colorado by all accounts is under extreme fiscal stress. Indeed, a recent report by the Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute found that “job losses in 2009 and 2010 indicate a full rebound[from the Great Recession in Colorado] is years away.” In short hand that means a long-term slump in the tax base that supports warehousing children for the rest of their lives.
According to a recent opinion article by Paul Wachter at aolnews.com, the economic slump is the perfect opportunity for the Obama Administration to take up prison reform. StopDirectFile.org agrees and suggests that prison reform ought to start where the system is most detrimental to budgets: juvenile justice.
As Wachter notes, many prison reform activists argue that the justice system should focus more on rehabilitation efforts and reduce penalties…” But the reason we should focus on juvenile justice reform first is simply that society suffers the most prolonged effects of incarceration and repeat crime from juvenile offenders that we fail to reform or keep locked up because of the “heinousness of their crimes.”
What we fail to realize is that some of the “most heinous” criminals are also the least dangerous. In Colorado the Department of Corrections currently houses about 15 inmates who were sentenced to life as juveniles for crimes like aiding and abetting a murder suspect. While helping a known murder suspect get away with the crime certainly shows poor judgment and is certainly worthy of punishment, a life sentence might be a bit stiff. When you consider that the total cost to incarcerate those non-violent offenders is just under $500,000 per year, it just seems ridiculous. When you figure that over their lifetimes they’ll cost the state just over $26 million, you want to rip your hair out.