Criminal Justice Reform

CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM – Public safety must be evidence-based and use tax dollars wisely.  We should invest in efforts that reduce recidivism, thereby improving public safety and giving former offenders a chance to re-integrate into society.

Below are bills I have sponsored and supported to reform our criminal justice system – to promote evidence-based decision making; to support victims of crimes; to reduce recidivism; and to allow offenders who have served their time the chance to turn their lives around.

Reforming Procedures for Defendants Who Are Incompetent To Proceed (SB20-181) – Increasingly, defendants with mental health conditions, traumatic brain injuries, or intellectual / developmental disabilities languish in our jails because they are not legally “competent to stand trial” due to the severity of their condition.  Often these individuals are picked up for only lower level offenses.  I sponsored this bill to help redirect defendants who are not “competent to stand trial” out of our jails and into non-criminal justice mental health treatment.  STATUS:  signed into law.

Funding for Justice Reinvestment Efforts (SB19-064) – Since 2013, the “offender re-entry grant program” has been shown to reduce recidivism by up to 80% by more effectively supervising parolees. I sponsored this bill to extend funding for this effective approach to public safety. This bill also extends funding for pilot programs to fund crime victim support efforts and to make business loans and non-profit grants available in crime- impacted communities, including North Aurora, to increase economic opportunity and reduce crime. STATUS: signed into law.

Improving Data Collection for County Jails (HB19-1297) – Currently state officials have no comprehensive picture of who is in our county jails and for what reason, making it harder to know what legislation is effective and what is not when it comes to public safety. I sponsored this bill to generate better data about our criminal justice system by directing county jails to submit quarterly reports to the state’s Division of Criminal Justice. STATUS: signed into law.

Eligibility for Record Sealing (HB19-1275) – Since the 1980s, eligibility to seal criminal records in Colorado has been relatively limited. Data shows that even lower level offenses decades ago can prevent former offenders who have turned their lives around from gaining employment or stable housing. I sponsored this bill to allow former offenders an opportunity to seal records of lower-level offenses after the sentence has been served and if no further crime has been committed. Notification is given to the district attorney and impacted victims, and sealing requires judicial approval for all but the very lowest-level offenses. STATUS: signed into law.

Faster Resolution of Competency Determinations (SB19-223) – “Competency” means that a defendant is mentally able to understand the criminal proceedings and to assist in his or her own defense. It is not constitutional to proceed against a defendant who is not competent. However, for years Colorado has had large backlogs in competency evaluations and restorations. I sponsored this bill to reform our competency system so that evaluations and restorations are made more efficiently and humanely and in a way that complies with constitutional requirements and people do not languish in our jails for years. STATUS: signed into law.

Continuing the Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice (HB18-1287) – For 10 years the Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice or “CCJJ” has studied the effectiveness of Colorado’s criminal laws and has helped bring about major reforms in areas like drug sentencing.  I sponsored this bill to continue CCJJ for another five years while adding new representatives including a crime victim, a victim advocate, and a former offender so that CCJJ will benefit from many perspectives.  Criminal justice is too important not to be based on research and deliberationSTATUS: signed into law.

Reforms to parole (HB18-1209) – for 25 years Colorado has sentenced certain offenders to serve a mandatory 5 years of parole once released from a correctional facility. However there is little evidence that 5 years of parole contributes to public safety or reduces recidivism despite an average cost to taxpayers of over $6,000 per year per person on parole. Therefore the bill makes the maximum term of parole 3 years instead of 5 for most offenders (lower level offenders already serve 3 years parole or less). We have incarcerated too many people, with too much racial disparity, for too long, and it’s time to start changing that.  STATUS: signed into law.

Updates to compassionate release parole (HB18-1109) – Colorado spends an average of $38,000/year to incarcerate someone. For older and sicker inmates, the cost can be two or three times as much. It is not necessary for public safety, a bad use of taxpayer dollars, and morally questionable to incarcerate the most ill and incapacitated inmates.  I sponsored this bill to give the Department of Corrections more discretion to send older and ill inmates to the state parole board to be considered for compassionate release.  STATUS: signed into law.

Collateral sanctions relief (HB18-1344) – Even after completing a sentence, there are hundreds of “collateral consequences” of a criminal conviction that prevent people from getting back to work and earning a living.  I sponsored this bill to expand the ability of adult offenders to seek an order of collateral relief — an individualized determination by a judge that the person has been rehabilitated and should be allowed to seek a professional license to work. The bill also allows orders of collateral relief for juvenile offenders.  STATUS: signed into law.

Collateral consequences reduction in licensing and employment (HB18-1418)I sponsored this bill to reduce the collateral consequences of prior justice system involvement and help people get back to work and re-integrate into society. The bill provides that individuals who have been charged but not convicted, or have been pardoned, or have had records sealed or expunged may not be barred from a state or local government agency license or certification or job opening. The bill also increases data collection so we can better understand the scope of collateral consequences in the future.  STATUS: signed into law.

Criminal Record Sealing (HB17-1208) – Record sealing is an important mechanism to make sure that defendants will not face barriers to employment and housing.  I sponsored this bill to clarify Colorado’s sealing process so that when a defendant has had charges dropped, or has been acquitted, or has completed a deferred judgment or diversion agreement, the defendant will be eligible to have the related criminal records sealed via an expedited and less expensive process.  STATUS – signed into law.

Oversight of Bail Bonding (SB17-236) – Under existing law, someone obtaining a bond may pledge real property as collateral to secure the bond, but sometimes the bonding agent cannot be located later to release the lien on the property.  I sponsored this bill to add a new consumer protection by allowing the property owner to file a complaint with the state’s insurance commissioner to have the lien released by a court.  The bill also continues existing oversight of bonding agents by the Division of Insurance. STATUS – signed into law.

I’ve also supported criminal justice reform legislation to:

  • increase law enforcement transparency (SB20-217 – signed into law) – the legislature passed SB 217 with broad bipartisan support after the killing of George Floyd – SB 217 includes the following provisions:
    • New requirements for use of body-worn cameras to bring greater transparency to police-community interactions
    • New, detailed reporting by law enforcement agencies about police-community interactions
    • Permanent revocation of peace officer status for unlawful use of force or failure to intervene to stop unlawful use of force
    • Restrictions on use of kinetic projectiles or chemicals agents, such as rubber bullets or tear gas, against crowds
    • The ability to seek a civil remedy against a peace officer for violation of rights under the bill of rights of the Colorado Constitution
    • Restrictions on use of kinetic projectiles or chemicals agents, such as rubber bullets or tear gas, against crowds
    • A duty to intervene to stop excessive use of force by another peace officer
    • Authority of the Colorado Attorney General to investigate and, if necessary, file suit to stop improper patterns and practices by law enforcement agencies
    • Collection of demographic information about police contacts to root out profiling;
  • ban the “panic defense” for crimes against gay or transgender people so that criminals cannot escape liability for harming people based on their orientation (SB20-221 – signed into law);
  • enhance victim notification (HB19-1064 – signed into law);
  • increase access to mental health support for peace officers (HB19- 1244 – signed into law);
  • prohibit cash bail for low-level offenses (HB19-1225 – signed into law); and
  • limit extraneous fees related to posting bail (SB19-191 – signed into law).