21 March 2016

A Couple Quick Hits On Criminal Justice In Colorado

* Progress is being made on reducing the deplorable practice of having juvenile delinquency offenders, often younger children, appear in court in chains.  But, there is still room for improvement.
Under a 2015 directive from the Colorado Supreme Court, all 22 judicial districts have adopted individual policies for determining whether juveniles should be restrained in courtrooms. 
This time last year, juveniles who had ongoing cases and were in custody were allowed to appear without restraints in only three districts. Now, 18 judicial districts permit juveniles to appear without restraints unless certain circumstances exist. . . .

In 10 districts, juveniles charged with a serious or violent crime — such as a Class 1 felony — will remain in restraints. . . . In nine districts juveniles will be restrained if they have a mental health condition and are acting in a bizarre or erratic way. Eighteen districts will restrain juveniles if they have made threats or attempted to hurt themselves or others, 13 districts will use restraints if there is information about an escape plan and 10 districts require juveniles to be in restraints if their co-defendants are in the courtroom. At least two districts cited courtroom design and staffing availability as reasons to keep juveniles in restraints. None of the policies dictate how restraints are used outside the courtroom.
* The Sunday Denver Post did an in depth analysis of the costs and benefits of new policies related to parole in Colorado.  In a nutshell, there has been a significant decline in recidivism, although recidivism is still high for felons released on parole. But, a number of cases where the new policies prevented parole officers from getting felons who were committing or would later commit crimes, suggests that the reforms may need some fine tuning.

The main policy changes involve who "technical parole violations" (basically violations of parole rules that wouldn't be criminal offenses for someone not on parole) are treated under Colorado's new rules.  Pre-reform data showed that sanctioning parolees, often severely, for technical parole violations did little to prevent new crimes from being committed (on average) while increasing the incarceration rate as minor violations that were hard for parolees to avoid unless their parole officer was lenient and didn't write them up for them, sent parolees back to prison for long periods of time.

Short, swift jail sentences replace returning to prison in many cases, but sometimes those measures don't seem to be sufficient for parolees who are abusing the more lenient system severely.

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