Posts Tagged ‘corrections’

August 23, 2010

Fiscal stress is opportunity for sentence reform

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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.

August 9, 2010

Nebraska Dems say “no” to life for kids

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Noting the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision to end juvenile life without parole for non-homicide offenses, the Nebraska Democratic Party recently passed a resolution that adds the elimination of JLWOP to their state legislative platform.

The Nebraska resolution states, in part, that:

WHEREAS the United States Supreme Court has again, in Graham v. Florida, reaffirmed the fundamental differences between youth and adults in their ability to exercise judgment, foresee consequences and resist peer pressure, and

WHEREAS the Court has also noted the greater capacity of youth to change, thereby making it impossible to determine at sentencing that a youth cannot be reformed…

THEREFORE be it resolved that the Democratic Party in Nebraska support legislative efforts to eliminate sentences of life without possibility of parole for crimes committed by a youth who has not yet reached the age of 18.

While Colorado eliminated Juvenile LWOP several years ago, the state still practices direct file and consecutive sentencing that can amount to virtual life sentences for kids. In Grand County, 15-year-old John Caudle is being tried as an adult and faces 80 years for allegedly slaying his abusive parents. Children like Caudle cannot forsee the consequences of their actions and have great capacity to learn from their mistakes. They should not, therefore, be subject to abusive practices like consecutive 40 year sentences that ultimately just mean another life lost at great taxpayer expense. Supreme Court members noted the limited scope of their decision by citing Colorado’s consecutive sentencing practices. An adult sentence, whether it is 40, 80, or 120 years for a juvenile does not account for an individual child’s capacity to change.

There is probably no soul sorrier for its master’s mistakes than is John Caudle’s. But the question is: Does his soul deserve redemption or condemnation? And is it the state of Colorado’s purview to make such lasting and ill-begotten judgments on its children? Every religion in the world teaches love and forgiveness and yet here we are as a state encouraging, seeking, enforcing and even disguising the basest revenge we can possibly imagine.  The Nebraska Democratic Party clearly isn’t afraid to face its demons. StopDirectFile.org hopes that in next legislative session, Colorado too can come to terms with its own, very fallible humanity.

June 28, 2010

Restorative Justice Symposium: Healing through Communication

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The Beth-El Mennonite Church in Colorado Springs will host a restorative justice symposium Thursday and Friday September 24th through the 25th. This important event is sponsored by the El Paso County Bar Association, the 4th Judicial District, and the Colorado Springs School District among others. According to the Pikes Peak Restorative Justice Council, the purpose of restorative justice is “to enable victims, offenders and the community to repair harms and restore relationships.”

Many juvenile offenders, including some who are being held in prison for life, did not intend the level of harm they may have caused. Restorative justice recognizes that, regardless of intent and harm, healing the community, victims and the offender are worthy objectives. When a crime is committed, the community is harmed, victims are traumatized and offenders may simply be abandoned to a “corrections system” that fails to correct anything at all.

StopDirectFile.org sees restorative justice as an important step toward rehabilitating young offenders. According to Don Quick, District Attorney for the 17th Judicial District, “society’s number one responsibility” when a child commits homicide “is to make sure that kid doesn’t kill again.” There are many different types of homicide from manslaughter to circumstantial (felony) murder. Most often, it is not a child’s intent to commit homicide and yet children are tried as adults when a death occurs almost without question. As a society we can keep a child from killing again by putting them in cold storage for the rest of their lives. But that strictly punitive approach ignores–at enormous community expense–society’s responsibility to both the victim and the offender. Restorative Justice, on the other hand, treats both offenders and victims on a case-by-case basis.

According to one victim, restorative justice had enormously positive effects: “My family and I were able to see remorse and pain from the responsible party who killed my son [] in an alcohol and speeding related accident. Because of this, we were able to forgive him and exchange hugs and tears. We feel we now have the strength to heal and carry on [our son's] legacy along with many awesome memories.”

As stated in several previous blogs, StopDirectFile.org supports “comprehensive sentence reform that provides appropriate community protections by removing juvenile offenders from society (until they are no longer a threat); provides victims with a sense of security and justice (not revenge); and gives juvenile offenders an opportunity for rehabilitation (not cold storage).”

StopDirectFile.org feels that restorative justice is the all-important first step toward a child’s rehabilitation and we strongly endorse the Pikes Peak Restorative Justice Symposium.

For more information or to sign up for the symposium please visit the symposium page at www.pprjc.org or call (719) 640-1650. Space is limited so register today.