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Criminal justice coalition visits CSU-Pueblo to inform students

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Students of sociology and criminology studies attended the Friday, April, 13, lecture from Jon M. Riley and Ellen Toomey-Hale of the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition.

Jon M. Riley, former president and current Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition coordinator and Ellen Toomey-Hale, finance & development coordinator spoke to a group of six students about the coalition’s recent legislative accomplishments and current efforts.

Describing concerns about the Colorado prison system and juvenile detention practices, a Power Point presentation included statistical evidence detailing prison growth numbers, sentencing laws, reasons for repeat incarcerations and reform legislation recently passed.

Toomey-Hale spoke about her 30 years serving in the juvenile justice system sharing her knowledge from experience about the system.

 “She is a passionate child advocate who is intent on improving Colorado’s criminal justice system,” her bio said. This knowledge and passion were expressed while she described to the audience the situations prisoners and administrators face, legislation as it was and is, and cultural factors that help argue the need for changes

Working from law school into a position as a juvenile prosecutor she came to dislike the emphasis placed on getting convictions that would place youths in prison, noting the difference when tried as an adult as being considerably worse than for those who are tried as juveniles, Toomey-Hale said.

Riley followed her with an account of his own work history from Ohio to Colorado. He has also worked with juveniles, and took time to reflect on the similarities between social services and justice system programs. Riley related some of his life’s journeys, as it lead him to becoming involved in the coalition after retiring from a 30-year corrections employment career.

Speaking at length about culture, education, social service and corrections, historical and outdated methods of punishment and treatment of prisoners, Riley noted also the practices of administrative segregation, “solitary confinement,” as it’s commonly known and release and responsibility. Of those released directly from administrative segregation to the street because 40 percent end up homeless, he said.

The logic used to help create reform was data-oriented, using the numbers to support their arguments, Riley said.

Colorado’s prisons have grown from a population of under 5,000 in 1980, to well over 20,000 in 2008. “It’s not that people have become more innately evil. The three primary factors, which have increased the prison population in Colorado, are increased sentence length and mandatory sentencing, the war on drugs, and parole practices,” according to the Power Point.

One slide revealed it costs $33,000 to keep one person imprisoned for a year. This is considerably more than the average cost of tuition at higher learning institutions. The intrinsic complications resulting from technical violations of parole have led to the legislative reform the coalition they lobbied for and saw passed in 2009, 2010 and 2011.

 Their mission is “to reverse the trend of mass incarceration in Colorado,” they said.

The caolition has a Re-entry Program, Drug Policy Reform Program, Civic Engagement Program and a Public Outreach Program, which advocates for education not incarceration.

In the last three years CCJRC has been involved with 24 criminal justice reform bills that have been signed into law, according to the Power Point.  Department of Corrections budget will reinvest $22.5 million into treatment and support services. Their reform in 2012 includes changing employment opportunities for ex-offenders and getting reduced sentencing for drug possession charges.

You can read more about them at CCJRC.org, or by email at info@ccjrc.org.